UPDATED: Google Is Finally Yanking the Plug on the Failed Google+ Social Network

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Google’s failed experiment to create a social network to compete with the 800-lb. gorilla Facebook is over. Today the company announced that they are shutting down Google+:

Google+, a social network that we can certainly say existed and not much more, is slated for a long-overdue trip down the memory hole.

A ten-month sunsetting period was announced in a Google blog post today about increased security efforts, dubbed Project Strobe, which found a bug in Google+ that could have leaked some personal information users posted to their profiles, though according to Strobe’s analysis no one else was aware of or took advantage of the vulnerability.

That may have something to do with Google+’s relative obscurity as an online social destination. Despite integration with the company’s other, hugely successful products like Gmail, Blogger, and YouTube, Google admits usage is negligible. In the company’s own words, “90 percent of Google+ user sessions are less than five seconds.”

Given the potential for abuse, and the fact that almost no one is using Google+, Alphabet opted to take the path of least resistance and yank the doddering network off life support. Users (whoever they might be) have had plenty of time to download and migrate their data before the platform’s final days arrive in August of next year.

According to an article in The New York Times:

Google said it would shut down Google Plus, the company’s floundering answer to Facebook, after it discovered a security vulnerability that exposed the private data of up to 500,000 users of the service.

When the company’s technical staff discovered the bug in March, they decided against disclosing the issue to users because they hadn’t found anyone that had been affected, the company said in a blog post on Monday.

That decision could run afoul of relatively new rules in California and Europe governing when a company must disclose a security incident. In the blog post, Google said its “Privacy & Data Protection Office” decided the company was not required to report the security issue.

The incident could face additional scrutiny because of a memo to senior executives reportedly prepared by Google’s policy and legal teams that warned of embarrassment for Google — similar to what happened to Facebook earlier this year — if it went public with the vulnerability.

The memo, according to The Wall Street Journal, warned that disclosing the problem would invite regulatory scrutiny and that Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, would likely be called to testify in front of Congress.

I actually will be rather sorry to see Google+ go, but I can certainly understand the decision. Nothing can compare to the initial excitement when the social network launched, but the feeling of euphoria didn’t last very long. As I have written:

…I joined Google+ when it launched in the summer of 2011, and I immediately began having real conversations with people instead of avatars [on Second Life], participating in face-to-face in hangouts, and posting items that people enjoyed and thanked me for writing. That first year was a heady and exhilarating time, hard to describe to someone who wasn’t there.

But after that first year, things went rapidly downhill and usage dropped off precipitously. Hangouts, which were great fun and a novelty at first, did not catch on the way that Google obviously hoped they would. Eventually, Google+ became a virtual ghost town.

Now I’m going to have to sit down and figure out exactly how to back up all my Google+ posts (over 18,000 of them!). I don’t want to lose them. I guess I’d better figure out how to use Google Takeout to save my stuff…

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One group that will be hard hit by this decision is the Opensim Virtual community, which has been a primary source of information on OpenSim developments for years now. Perhaps Talla Adam will move the group over to Facebook, where any number of Second Life related groups seem to be doing well.

UPDATE Oct. 9th: Lauren Weinstein has written a must-read editorial on Google (the company) in general and Google+ (the platform) in particular on his blog: The Death of Google.

And a petition to save Google+ has already gathered over 10,000 signatures over on Change.org, but I personally don’t think it’s going to make Google change their mind:

Petition

Mike Elgan, who was a passionate user of Google+, writes:

Remember Yahoo? Twenty years ago, Yahoo.com got more traffic than any site on the internet. But it failed to evolve.

In place of evolution or innovation, Yahoo simply started buying everything with the intention of integrating it. But it was unable to integrate anything in a compelling way.

Eventually, Yahoo simply became the company that closed things. It quickly became clear that nobody should invest any time, energy or money into supporting or using Yahoo because whatever product you invested in would likely be shut down, killed off, closed for business.

Now, Google is the new Yahoo.

Google is the company that kills its own products.

Google’s M.O. is to launch some new product or service with great fanfare, convince it’s loyal fans to go all-in, allow those fans to devote countless hours with the product, then kill the product and leave the devoted fans with nothing.

They did it with Reader, Inbox, Answers, Lively, Glass, Orkut, Buzz, Wave, Nexus Q, Dodgeball and many others.

The closure of Google+ is the biggest slap in the face ever, by far.

Google told us Google+ was the future of Google. So we jumped in and engaged. Personally, I’ve spent thousands of hours lovely crafting publication-quality opinion pieces. This is what I do for a living, and I gave my time and labor over to Google+ for free.

Now, Google is going to flush all my work down the toilet.

Yours, too.

Google has been working hard for years to push away its most loyal fans. Now, Google is going even further.

In fact, the killing of Google+ is a perfect storm of Google’s vision vacuum. It’s driven by their antipathy toward passionate users, and also their failure to understand the human element generally.

Google has failed utterly with every social network they’ve ever launched, and the reason is that, culturally, Google simply can’t understand human beings.

I recently got rid of my MacBook Pro and bought a high-end Pixelbook. And I was leaning toward buying a Pixel 3. But now I’m off the fence. I’ll be buying iPhones from now on.

And I can’t even imagine what will happen when Google decides to kill Google Photos.

Google simply can’t be trusted.

Google is the new Yahoo, the company that kills its own products.

Which Google product is next?

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AvaCon: A Brief Introduction

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AvaCon is another virtual world company that is notable for its work in organizing and hosting real-world conferences in the past. They run an OpenSim grid called AvaCon Grid, and they appear to have hosted a series of real-world Avatar Meetups:

AvaCon hosts and produces a series of educational lectures and community gathering meet-upsthat reach approximately 15 to 40 attendees per event and take place in various regional cities such as Austin, Boston, New York and San Francisco.

These meetups feature a single panel discussion, presentation, artistic or musical performance, or community event to foster knowledge sharing and social networking among attendees who are interested in broad technical, scholarly, scientific and creative uses of virtual worlds, augmented reality, and 3D immersive and virtual spaces.

These meetings appear to have stopped in 2014, however. Their news page hasn’t been updated since October 2017, and I notice a lot of somewhat dated content on their blog, which leads me to believe that AvaCon is not nearly as active at the moment.

I was surprised to discover that AvaCon produced the Second Life Community Conventions of 2010 and 2011. (There hasn’t been an SL Convention since then. I guess people just lost interest, or maybe the organizers got burned out. Organizing a convention is a lot of hard work!)

More recently, AvaCon was a co-host of the 2017 OpenSimulator Community Conference, so it would appear that they are still at least somewhat active in OpenSim projects.

Money in the Newer Virtual Worlds

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Image by TheDigitalWay on Pixabay

The best things in life are free
But you can give them to the birds and bees
I want money
That’s what I want
That’s what I want
That’s what I want

Your love gives me such a thrill
But your love won’t pay my bills
I want money
That’s what I want
That’s what I want
That’s what I want

Money, the Flying Lizards


In-world currency systems are an integral part of many social VR/virtual world platforms. Second Life can be seen as the perfect example of a virtual world whose popularity exploded once people realized that they could make money on the platform, inspired by a 2006 Businessweek cover story on Second Life entrepreneur Anshe Chung:

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This blogpost is an attempt to provide a comprehensive overview of how the newer virtual world platforms have implemented in-world currencies and set up systems for commerce.

Sansar

Linden Lab has, of course, 15 years of experience working with Second Life‘s economy and in-game currency, and they have applied that expertise in the setup and operation of the economy for their new virtual world, Sansar. You can buy Sansar dollars in two ways, directly in bundles or via the Sansar Dollar Exchange (SandeX), a currency exchange. There are more details on the SandeX in this document:

 The SandeX is the official virtual exchange of Sansar, run by Linden Lab, where you can:

  • Buy Sansar dollars at the current market rate.
  • Make limit buy offers at a requested exchange rate.
  • Sell Sansar dollars at the current market rate.
  • Make limit sell offers at a requested exchange rate.

All SandeX transactions are subject to transaction fees.

Market buy and sell

Market buys and market sells are the quickest ways to purchase or sell Sansar dollars on the SandeX. The SandeX automatically matches your order with the best exchange rate. The quoted exchange rate includes transaction fees associated with buying and selling on the exchange.

Limit buy and sell

Limit buys and sells allow you to specify the amount of Sansar dollars and the exchange rate you are willing to accept. The SandeX automatically matches up buy and sell offers as they come in. If you are buying, you must have sufficient funds in your US$ wallet to pay for the buy order.

Creators can sell their creations on the Sansar Store, and can also receive statistics on how well their items are selling. There is as yet no in-world commerce like they have in Second Life.

Sinespace

Sinespace has two in-world currencies, called silver and gold. According to their wiki:

Gold

Gold credits can only be purchased for real money by spending users and can be converted back to real money by Sine Wave virtual goods partners.

Gold credits trade at 100 / 1 fixed ratio with USD$

Silver

Silver credits are free promotional credits given to users as rewards for participating in the community.

Silver credits cannot be converted to real money but can be used by creators to promote their content to new platform users who have not yet purchased gold.

Sinespace has a Marketplace built into its client software, and a few vendors like BlakOpal have also set up in-world stores.

High Fidelity

High Fidelity has attracted a lot of recent media attention due to the fact that they have decided to set up a blockchain-based in-world currency, called High Fidelity Coins (HFC):

  • Blockchain Technology: Our new currency, High Fidelity Coins (HFC), will be a public blockchain with a consensus group of multiple parties. A blockchain is essentially a digital ledger of transactions. We are using blockchain technology to track and record transactions made using HFC. All information on a blockchain exists as a shared database, which means the records are public and verifiable. It is not centralized. We are also using the blockchain to store information about digital asset ownership in High Fidelity. This enables us to protect intellectual property by embedding certification in items in the blockchain. HFC will eventually be convertible to local currencies or other cryptocurrencies at popular exchanges.
  • Cryptographically-secured Wallet: Users will be able to participate in transactions using their Wallet, which will be an app on their tablet in High Fidelity. Your Wallet is secured using a security picture and a passphrase which includes ECDSA public-private keys pairs. These key pairs are used to sign each transaction.
  • Proof of Provenance (PoP) certificate: This certificate is generated for every transaction between a user’s Wallet and the Markeplace. This certificate’s ID is stored on the blockchain. The certificate contains static properties that can help in identifying the item and the owner. These properties cannot be altered, except by transfer of the PoP Certificate. Currently, we only support objects that contain a file type .JSON. Support for avatars and other file types will be coming soon.

Currently, the only way to get some HFC (a free one-time grant) is to go to the Bank of High Fidelity domain at their open times and meet with the banker. Here’s some more information of HFC from the High Fidelity website:

We are currently giving out the currency for anyone interested in participating in the closed beta for High Fidelity Commerce. If you want to get your inital HFC grant, you first need to set up your Wallet.

These coins are to be used as currency for any commerce transactions in the Marketplace. Since we are using blockchain technology, all transactions with HFCs will be publically recorded and stored.

Your Wallet will be secured using ECDSA public-private key pairs, security picture and passphrase. Learn more about your Wallet here.

HFC is not intended for speculators to hold and should be used in transactions in High Fidelity. HFC is intended to be a stable currency and used to support a healthy and vibrant virtual economy for digital goods and assets.\

High Fidelity has an online Marketplace where vendors can sell their products (users can also access the Marketplace listings using their tablets in-world). Avatar Island is the first domain set up in HiFi where you can try on and purchase items for your avatar in-world.

VRChat

VRChat currently does not have any sort of commerce or in-game currency, although there is a thriving real-world business for people designing and rigging custom avatars for VRChat users. It will be interesting to see what happens when/if the company decides to implement an in-world economy on the most popular of the social VR platforms.

AltspaceVR

As I recently reported, AltspaceVR seems to be gearing up for commerce, but at the moment, there is no commerce or in-game currency system in place.

OpenSim

Different OpenSim grids have different solutions to the problem of an in-world currency. Every grid has in-world stores which offer merchandise for sale. Some grids issue their own currencies; others use the Gloebit system, which has the advantage of being one standard currency which is transferable and usable across a large number of participating OpenSim grids. The Kitely Marketplace is a popular shopping mall for the many OpenSim virtual worlds:

Kitely Market can deliver items to all Kitely avatars, as well as to avatars on all other OpenSim grids that support the Hypergrid. Our marketplace also delivers items to avatars on several non-Hypergrid grids that have been set up to receive deliveries from our system.

Kitely Market has been used to deliver items to thousands of OpenSim users on more than 100 different OpenSim grids.

Virtual Universe, Decentraland and the Other Blockchain-Based Virtual Worlds

Virtual Universe, Decentraland, Mark Space, Staramba Spaces, VIBEHub, Ceek, and Terra Virtua (among many other products in this increasingly crowded marketplace) are issuing their own blockchain-based cryptocurrencies or tokens for future use on their platforms. all of which are still in development. The product closest to a launch date appears to be Virtual Universe, which plans to start a closed beta sometime in the fourth quarter of 2018.

I’ve already strongly warned potential investors to do every. single. scrap. of their homework before investing a penny in any of these blockchain/cryptocurrency ventures (link). Caveat Emptor!

Other Social VR/Virtual World Platforms

I can’t think of any other metaverse products which have in-world currencies at the moment, besides the adult virtual worlds like Oasis and Utherverse/The Red Light Center (these links are safe for work). If I’ve missed one, please let me know in the comments, thank you!

UPDATED: What Are the Most Popular Destinations in the Metaverse?

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Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash

When you’re feeling like you want some company in a virtual world, where do you go? Sometimes people choose to go to popular places, where they can be fairly certain to meet other avatars who are also in-world at the same time. What are the metaverse equivalents of the Cheers bar, where you can just drop in anytime?


Second Life

For example, sometimes when I’m bored I go visit the London City sims, which are always busy. Clubs such as Muddy’s, Big Daddy’s, Fogbound Blues, and Frank’s Place are always a popular choice when you want to be around other avatars in a social setting.

Second Life does have a Popular Places listing, but the truth is, most of the places listed are actually pretty deserted. Clubs, in particular, seem to come and go with surprising frequency. Sometimes you have to go by word of mouth to hear about popular spots.

Here’s an interesting canned search that pulls up a list of Second Life sims, sorted in descending order by “traffic”. However, you should know that Second Life is notorious for having sims that may look busy, but are actually populated by armies of bots hidden away somewhere in a platform in the sky, in an effort to game SL’s traffic measurement system, and therefore appear higher in the Search function under Places. So be skeptical when looking at traffic statistics; they often don’t tell the whole story.

But what about the newer virtual worlds and social VR spaces? Where are their Cheers?

Sansar

Every so often Gindipple posts his statistics of the most popular Sansar experiences. Two that seem to be perennially popular are 114 Harvest (the starting place for the weekly Atlas Hopping event and the home of several notable Sansarians) and Alfy’s Arena Live Music Stage. Another popular place is Zen Garden. But really, you can just check the Sansar Events listing or the Sansar Atlas under the All tab, which automatically sorts Sansar experiences in reverse order by the number of avatars present (just check the green number in the upper left corner of the picture of each experience):

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High Fidelity

Finding popular places in High Fidelity (aside from scheduled meetups and events) can be a bit of a head-scratcher. The social VR platform does have an upcoming events page in pinboardagenda, or calendar month views. Unfortunately, there’s no events listing within their client (on their tablet), so you’ll have to rely on the website to get your information before you go in-world. If you search under Places in the tablet user interface, it will tell you how many other avatars are in other domains, though.

Sinespace

The most popular place in Sinespace (aside from special events such as speakers at the Delphi Talks) is invariably the Welcome Centre, where there is usually a small crowd of avatars sitting around and chatting.

VRChat

VRChat hosts many popular events such as the ENDGAME and Gunter’s Universe talk shows. The best way to find out when these are happening is to check out the handy VRChat Events calendar or join the VRChat Events Discord server. Again, sometimes the best thing to do when you’re simply looking for some company, is to open the Places menu and just pick a spot at random where there are a lot of other avatars gathered. You’re pretty much guaranteed to run into somebody to chat with.


What are your favourite places to go in the metaverse when you want to meet other avatars? Have you found a spot you like to go visit? Please leave a comment with your suggested places and strategies, thanks!

UPDATE Aug. 9th:

OpenSim

Alan Tupper of the Opensim Virtual community on Google+ has given me a great tip on finding popular destinations on OpenSim, by clicking this link to the OpenSimWorld directory, which gives a list of sims sorted in descending order by number of avatars present! This is very useful, thank you, Alan!