UPDATED WITH AUDIO LINKS! Philip Rosedale: Second Life Stories, and Designing the Metaverse—Some Notes from a Wide-Ranging Conversation Multicast on Twitter Spaces, Clubhouse, Callin and Second Life

Today at 11:00 a.m. CST, Philip Rosedale (the founder and former CEO of Linden Lab, the makers of Second Life, and the current CEO of High Fidelity) hosted a discussion titled Second Life Stories, and Designing the Metaverse, where people had an opportunity to ask him questions. Dr. Fran Babcock and Dr. Hayman Buwaneswaran Buwan from the MetaWhat? The Metaverse Show were key organizers. Philip is always an engaged, articulate, and informed speaker, and if you missed this event, I will update this blogpost with links to an archived version which you can listen to via Twitter Spaces, Clubhouse, and Callin. UPDATE 7:14 p.m.: Links are at the end of this blogpost.

Philip was on Twitter Spaces, with well over 100 listeners in the room, but the conversation was also extended to the social audio apps Clubhouse and Callin, plus there was a virtual auditorium set up in Second Life, with almost 50 avatars present! Participants in all four spaces could both hear and ask questions. To my knowledge, this is the first time something like this set-up had been attempted.

Philip shared a couple of “first stories” from his experience with Second Life, real stories from the early years of the company, both pre- and post-launch in 2003, e.g. Steller Sunshine’s beanstalk. He talked about how it was a challenge to provide backwards-compatibility, and how this affected the design of SL over time (for example, changing the friction elements would affect how people could climb the beanstalk). He talked about how he was able to drop a virtual pebble into the virtual water to create ripples (something which was later taken out because it was so computationally expensive!).

When asked why Second Life did not create mobile apps, Philip says that SL, when launched in 2003, predated mobile devices like the iPhone (introduced in 2007) and apps like Facebook (launched in 2004). While Philip is an advisor to Linden Lab, he is not a member of the executive team running the company day-to-day. He says that running SL on a mobile app is a “hard problem” to solve (I agree).

I asked Philip about his opinions regarding Meta’s surveillance system to enforce good behaviour, which includes constantly recording what happens in Horizon Worlds in case someone wants to send an abuse report to the moderators to act upon. Philip talked about his misgivings about AI-based surveillance and targeting systems in the metaverse, and how they could be used to gather information about us in new and disturbing ways, such as using how we are feeling to decide what ads to show us.

Philip has grave concerns about a business model of metaverse designed around advertising and surveillance. Talking about moderation, Philip wants the metaverse to be designed largely driven by the actions of the (human) people who are there, rather than implementing an automated behavioural surveillance and reporting system.

In answering a follow-up question, Philip said he felt that it it is indeed possible to have a metaverse with consequences for trolls and griefers, while still building strong social connections between people, citing as an example banning a person from a public place such as a restaurant where they were misbehaving.

Philip mentioned, in an interview he gave to a media outlet earlier today, that Second Life still has a higher revenue per person per year than YouTube does, with most of that income coming from fees: fees on sales and fees for virtual land (tier). He feels that a business based on fees (as opposed to surveillance advertising) is most definitely scalable, citing the approximately one million users in Second Life.

Philip talked about how presence can change communication dynamics, such as how how walking up to another avatar, and being physically near another avatar, triggers a response where people tended to be more civil than they might be in a text-only environment like a chatroom, and how quickly such presence could help defuse potentially negative communications.

Among the speakers present were Avi Bar-Zeev, the person who created the primitive system, the digital atoms used for building anything and everything in the early days of Second Life! In fact, many content creators in the metaverse got their start by prim-building in SL. (One SL historian remarked that today was the 20th anniversary of the first-ever created prim in Second Life, made on January 25th, 2002!) Philip talked about how Second Life’s prim permission system could be seen as a forerunner of newer digital asset systems being considered for the metaverse.

later moving on to creating and texturing mesh models using tools like Blender. Avi talked about artificial scarcity of virtual worlds, and the necessity to design the metaverse to be human spaces, a place to rehumanize rather than dehumanize those who participate.

Philip talked about how VR headsets are still not affordable and accessible enough (i.e. you are able to wear them all day) yet, to be able to have the kind of social community that we experience in virtual worlds like Second Life. He said (and I was transcribing madly while he spoke, so this is a paraphrase!):

It’s difficult to get people to communicate normally in a virtual world. It’s easy to forget that this is an experience that most people would not be comfortable with, yet. We’re not there yet, and the way we get there is to make avatars more visually expressive, which is a tough problem to solve.

—Philip Rosedale

Philip talked about spatialized audio products such as High Fidelity’s 3D audio as an aid to community-building, but adds that we still need to work on nonverbal communications (the listener leaning in to the speaker to indicate engagement, etc.).

There was a lot more discussed, including Philip Rosedale’s thoughts about virtual economies and NFT real estate, which unfortunately I did not have a chance to transcribe. Philip is always an articulate and informative speaker, so you will want to listen to the recording if you missed this event.

I will, however, provide a link to an archive of this wide-ranging and fascinating discussion on Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces, and Callin, once Dr. Hayman posts it! He is to be thanked for juggling everything in order to make this multicast such as success.

UPDATE 7:14 p.m.: Here, as promised, are links to the recordings made:

Twitter Spaces recording 1:43:44 (Dr. Hayman tells me, “this recording has less of the interruptions from Second Life, as I muted the mic when feedback and keyboard noises were present in SL”)

Callin recording 1:40:08

Enjoy! I know I will be relistening to portions of this.

NEXT: Beyond the Metaverse Virtual Conference—A Free, Daylong Event Hosted by Lethbridge College, February 17th, 2022

Lethbridge College, a Lethbridge, Alberta-based college which was among the first post-secondary institutions in Canada to offer a Virtual and Augmented Reality program, is hosting a free, daylong virtual conference on February 17th, 2022, titled NEXT: Beyond the Metaverse. The event runs from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (in what I assume is Lethbridge time, Mountain Time Zone).

According to a press release issued by Lethbridge College today:

As the reality of an evolving Internet becomes more mainstream, so does interest in the metaverse – a network of spaces where you can create a virtual world parallel to your physical one.

Just as the Internet revolutionized how we communicate, learn, play and do business, spatial computing, by way of the metaverse, is transforming those everyday interactions yet again.

Lethbridge College is bringing together some of the world’s leading voices on this computing revolution for NEXT: Beyond the Metaverse, a free, virtual conference presented by Lethbridge College’s Spatial Technologies Applied Research & Training (START) centre on Feb. 17. Hosted on the AltspaceVR and Classy Live platforms, the conference connects the best virtual and augmented reality experts with industry and individuals alike.

Emceed by Kent Bye, producer of the Voices of VR Podcast, the full-day event features presentations by April Speight, Spatial Computing Technology team leader, Microsoft Cloud Advocacy; Matt Todd, historian for game design, Ubisoft Quebec City; Antonia Forster, senior technical specialist, Unity Technologies; and George Bloom, executive producer Visual Effects, Metaverse and Innovation Lab, CBS Television Studios. Join them as they explore the complex topic of the metaverse, where it’s at, where it’s headed and why it’s important.

You can read more detailed speaker bios and register for this event on this page. It looks to be an interesting virtual conference. See you there!

My Predictions for Social VR, Virtual Worlds and the Metaverse for 2022

Have you joined the RyanSchultz.com Discord yet? You’re invited to be a part of the first ever cross-worlds discussion group, with over 600 people participating from every social VR platform and virtual world! We discuss, debate and argue about the ever-evolving metaverse and all the companies building it. You’re welcome to come join us! More details here.


I was going to write up another entry in my ongoing Pandemic Diary series today, but then I read Wagner James Au’s predictions for 2022, and I suddenly realized I had neglected to write up my own blogpost, with my predictions for the next twelve months! So let me polish my crystal ball and see what comes up… 😉

Among Wagner’s predictions is this one, which I agree with 100%—make that 1,000%!

There will be a major scandal or controversy around one of the blockchain/NFT-oriented Metaverse platforms.

With NFTs beset by scams and NFT/blockchain-oriented metaverse platforms seeing low user numbers but extremely high investment and speculation, this is only a matter of time.  

It’s only January 12th, 2022, but I have already written about a number of questionable NFT projects which at best are crazy schemes, and at worst are outright scams! MetaWorld springs to mind as the perfect example of the latter (ALLEGEDLY, I hasten to add, although IN MY OPINION, I don’t believe there is any actual MetaWorld platform, aside from a prototype which was created years ago by someone who has since left the company to work for Somnium Space).

By the way, I have been reliably informed that, after an absence caused by the publication of this damning recent piece of investigative journalism by Engadget, Dedric Reid is once again active on Clubhouse, shilling MetaWorld in his own rooms and in other rooms about the metaverse on the still-popular social audio platform. He’s also relisted his (ALLEGEDLY, IN MY OPINION) worthless virtual land NFTs on OpenSea, after NiftyKit took the original listings on his website down when the original artist he stole the images from to illustrate his NFTs lodged a copyright complaint.

Despite all the negative press from the Engadget exposé and my series of blogposts about MetaWorld, Dedric continues undeterred. Someone joked to me via Discord DMs that Dedric Reid is the Elizabeth Holmes of the metaverse, and I laughed out loud because it’s such an apt, concise description! Harsh, savage, but accurate.

But on to other topics; I am tired of talking about Dedric Reid and MetaWorld (and frankly, whoever falls for his ALLEGED scam at this point is simply not doing their proper due diligence, IN MY OPINION). There’s a lot of actual progress being made by many legitimate metaverse companies building social VR/AR platforms and virtual worlds!

First, Facebook—sorry, Meta! I predict that Meta is going to have a very bumpy year ahead. The company was roundly criticized by the virtual reality community when they announced that. starting in October 2020, all Oculus VR hardware users had to set up accounts on the toxic Facebook social network. While Mark Zuckerberg, in his now-infamous Connect 2021 keynote, said that the company was looking at removing this requirement, I’ll believe it when I actually see it happen. Words are hollow, Mark; what matters are actions.

I predict that Facebook (sorry, Meta) is going to have a rough year

Meta is facing such a never-ending litany of complaints, scandals, and even legal actions that this is, once again, a very easy prediction to make for 2022.

Next prediction: there’s going to be a lot of activity this year in the fuzzy overlap area between games and virtual worlds, what I like to call the “metaverse-adjacent” space. Both games (e.g. Fortnite, Minecraft) and game platforms (e.g. Roblox, Core) will continue to add new features in an effort to become more like social VR/AR apps and virtual worlds. And, given their immense popularity, especially among children, tweens, and teens, many people will get their first taste of the metaverse via these games and game platforms, in much the same way as an entire generation got their start in the metaverse via Second Life.

Speaking of Second Life, in my predictions for 2021, I wrote the following:

And, indeed, 2021 was the first year in which VRChat began to consistently surpass Second Life in user concurrency figures (Rec Room did too, I believe). VRChat has been breaking new user concurrency records, leading up to and including New Year’s Eve 2021, as Johnny Rodriguez tweeted:

Last night, 88,700 people put on a VR headset and decided to join the VRChat New Years event to countdown [to] the new year. For reference, this is Husker’s Memorial Stadium [at the University of Nebraska], which fits around 86,000 people when completely full. VR is here to stay.

Turning back to Second Life, the coronavirus pandemic caused a temporary surge in usage (and the current Omicron wave might well prompt people to dust off their avatars and give it another try, too). I still estimate that SL has somewhere between 500,000 and 900,000 active users per month (that is, people who sign in at least once in the past thirty days). I really wish that Linden Lab would regularly release statistics like this, but if they are declining (slowly or quickly), I can also understand why the company would be reluctant to do so.

It doesn’t help matters that Second Life’s userbase skews significantly older than most other social VR platforms, virtual worlds, and metaverse-adjacent apps like Minecraft, Fortnite, and Roblox. SL users are (literally) dying off! However, Second Life still remains popular enough (and a reliable cash cow) to keep merrily coasting along for many years. And with the deep pockets and good connections of the Waterfield investment group (of which Second Life is now a part), the future looks bright.

I wish I could say the same about Sansar, which from my (admittedly limited) perspective, seems to be circling the drain. I wrote the following post in the official Second Life community forums late last year:

I was part of Sansar since I was invited into the closed beta in 2016/2017, and I was there for the whole crazy ride. Sansar is now on life support (the company that bought it from Linden Lab, called Wookey, furloughed all of its staff recently, and I believe that they could shut down at any moment without warning). Being there from beginning to end, I still marvel at how Linden Lab thought they could build a new virtual world/social VR platform and just put it out there, and expect it to sell itself in this competitive marketplace for metaverse platforms. “Build it and they will come” might have worked for SL in 2003 but it sure ain’t gonna work nowadays. You have to PROMOTE yourself to get noticed.

Also, Linden Lab could have done a lot of things to try and entice SL users to a) visit Sansar and b) make them want to stay, build worlds, create content, and form a new community. Instead, what happened is that Second Life folks (rightly or wrongly) saw Sansar as something which distracted LL from its work on SL, and as a result most SL folks hated Sansar and refused to have anything to do with it, hastening its downfall in my opinion. It also didn’t help that Linden Lab made a bet that many people would be owning high-end VR headsets tethered to high-end PCs with good graphics cards, and instead the Oculus Quest wireless headset took off.

I still shake my head and wonder “what if?”. Say a prayer for Sansar, it needs it. 

Right now, Sansar’s best hope for survival in 2022 is for another company who wants to enter the metaverse marketplace to buy the platform from Wookey, much the same as Microsoft stepped in at the eleventh hour to snap up AltspaceVR.

Another prediction: we are going to see an increase in the number of companies providing services to metaverse platforms. Wagner James Au mentions the Linden Lab subsidiary Tilia, which provides financial services, in his blogpost which I linked to up top; I predict that they will land a few more clients this year. Another example of a company doing well in this niche is Ready Player Me, the avatar system currently in use in VRChat and over 1,000 other apps and games on VR, mobile, desktop, and web. Expect this nascent business-to-business sector to explode this year!

Well, that’s it for me, for now. I might update this blogpost with other predictions for 2022 as they come to me.

And I ask you, my faithful readers: what predictions are you making for the next twelve months? Feel free to leave a comment, or use the feedback form on my blog if you’d prefer to contact me directly. You’re also welcome to join the RyanSchultz.com Discord server, a cross-worlds community where over 600 people, with experience in various metaverse platforms, welcome you! Just click the button on the left-side panel of my blog as shown (image right). If you are connecting via a smartphone or tablet instead of your computer desktop, just click the three-bars menu button in the upper-right hand corner, then scroll down until you see the Discord widget displayed.

Editorial: The Current Business Land Rush in the Blockchain-Based Virtual Worlds (and the Forgotten Lessons from Second Life’s Corporate Boom)

It’s déjà vu all over again.

—Yogi Berra (source)
The virtual office of accounting firm Prager Metis International in Decentraland (image source: The Wall Street Journal)

This morning, I read a January 7th, 2022 article in The Wall Street Journal titled Accounting Firms Scoop Up Virtual Land in the Metaverse (archived version), which discusses how PricewaterhouseCoopers and Prager Metis made acquisitions last month to begin operating in the metaverse. Please go over there and read the article in full; below is the section pertinent to my editorial today:

Businesses across industries, including real estate, technology and cryptocurrency, have been purchasing digital land on platforms such as Decentraland and the Sandbox. Executives have started drafting business plans for operating in those virtual worlds, which are typically conceived by videogame developers.

Prager Metis International LLC, a New York-based accounting and advisory firm, on Friday said it opened a virtual three-story property on a site it bought for nearly $35,000 in late December. The firm, which operates 23 physical offices in the U.S., Europe and Asia, made its purchase on the Decentraland platform in partnership with Banquet LLC, a firm that funds and manages blockchain ventures.

Prager Metis plans to use its virtual building to advise companies and other new and existing clients on tax and accounting issues, Chief Executive Glenn Friedman said. The firm expects that many of its clients, particularly those in the entertainment and fashion industries, will seek its services in the metaverse as more companies decide to conduct business there, according to Mr. Friedman. “If the metaverse is going to replace the internet, then certainly business is going to use it,” he said.

Other accounting firms are also venturing into the metaverse. PricewaterhouseCoopers in late December said its Hong Kong unit acquired virtual real estate in the Sandbox, a subsidiary of software firm Animoca Brands Corp., for an undisclosed amount.

“The Metaverse offers new possibilities for organizations to create value through innovative business models, as well as introducing new ways to engage with their customers and communities,” William Gee, a partner at PwC Hong Kong, said in a statement.

And, like Yogi Berra once famously said, I got déjà  vu all over again.

In November 2017, in the earliest days of the RyanSchultz.com blog, I wrote:

I still remember the crazy heyday of Second Life, with the hype machine set to maximum, from 2006 to 2008. Everybody was going on about how virtual worlds in general, and Second Life in particular, were going to revolutionize business and education. News organizations like Reuters, countries like Sweden, and big corporations like American Apparel and IBM trooped into SL and set up sims.

(Of course, most of those organizations trooped out of SL just as quickly as they trooped in, leaving the field to the many mom-and-pop businesses that give SL its vibrancy.)

And in July of 2018, I wrote:

Second Life went through a period (around 2006-2007) where many real-life companies, like American Apparel and Playboy, trooped in and set up shop. Almost all of those corporations left after a year or two, not seeing any real value for their investment of time and money in SL.

But, you may say; but!! It’s different this time around, you may say. And you may well be right. Perhaps, this time, all the stars will align and people will create an avatar, go into a social VR platform or a virtual world like Decentraland or the Sandbox, figure out how to dress themselves, move around and talk, locate your virtual office or shop, and actually transact business. But, for anybody who was in Second Life between 2006 and 2008, during a previous iteration to the current metaverse hype cycle, this all has a rather familiar ring to it.

Businesses who want to set up a virtual office or shop in any metaverse platform—Decentraland, the Sandbox, venerable old Second Life, wherever—need to stop and ask themselves the following pertinent questions (and yes, a consultant like Cathy Hackl, Godmother of the Metaverse, would probably charge you a pretty penny for this advice, but hey, me, I’m going to give it to you for free!):

  1. What is your use case? Prepare a written-down description of the ways in which a user would interact with your virtual office. Yes, I’m serious! WRITE IT DOWN AND THINK IT OUT. A formal use case would establish the success scenarios, the failure scenarios, and any critical variations or exceptions to your plan, before you commit.
  2. Who is your target audience? Who are you hoping to reach by setting up a virtual office in social VR or a virtual world, that you you wouldn’t already reach? NFT enthusiasts? Crypto bros? Your Joe or Jane Average consumer? If there’s a mismatch between your target audience and the people who actually use the platform, you need to take a step back and rethink this. You shouldn’t expect a sudden influx of people who are different from the demographic of the current userbase, either.
  3. How technically savvy is your target audience? For example, during Second Life’s boom, many academic libraries set up virtual versions, only to later close them when they realized that expecting people to install and set up a Second Life client, just to look for information or ask a reference question, was too steep a learning curve. In other words, the price of admission was too high. (Yes, I know, Decentraland is web-based, but that, too, has a learning curve and its tricky set-up bits, particularly if you are new to cryptocurrencies, blockchain, and NFTs.)
  4. Will this virtual office be staffed? Or will it just be a place where an avatar can get information, kind of like a fancy, three-dimensional brochure, but with NFTs and videos? 😉 And, if you do plan to staff it, will you have posted office hours? Keep in mind that most metaverse platforms operate 24/7/365; will you have people working in shifts? At the same time, paying someone to hang around in Decentraland or the Sandbox, waiting for someone to wander in, could potentially be expensive.
  5. Seriously, ask yourself why you are doing this, and keep digging until you hit bedrock! Are you setting up a virtual office just for the bragging rights? Are you just responding to all the recent articles about the blockchain-based metaverse which are triggering your FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)? Are you responding to someone else’s FOMO (e.g. your CEO or CTO)?

    So go look into the mirror, and ask yourself why. And whatever answer you give, keep asking yourself why, again and again and again, until you strip out all the corporate-speak and bafflegab and bullshit and you hit your underlying bedrock, your true motivations and intentions. THEN act.

There, you see? Auntie Ryan could definitely give the Godmother of the Metaverse a run for her money! 😜 (Seriously, love you, Cathy! Don’t change what you’re doing!)

Look, people (and by “people”, I mean corporations); I’m not saying don’t do this. I’m saying: if you choose to do this, then carefully think about what you are doing, and why you are doing it, before you jump in feet-first, and start flailing about. And (shout-out to Cathy!) hire consultants who will advise you. (Hey, forget Cathy, hire me! Me!!!)

I remain optimistic that this iteration of the metaverse will take off (unlike Second Life’s relatively short-lived and now seemingly-forgotten corporate boom). But my optimism is tempered by my 14 years of experience in SL…I often joke that I got my Ph.D. in the Metaverse from the University of Second Life! 😉 That experience informs my perspective as I passionately explore and write about the ever-evolving metaverse on this blog.

Second Life is the perfect model of a mature, fully-evolved metaverse platform, which newer entrants into the marketplace would be wise to study, and learn from both its many success stories and its failures, controversies, and scandals.