Notes from The Metaverse: A Glimpse into the Future of Work, with Charlie Fink, Cathy Hackl, Alex Howland, and Philip Rosedale, Held in VirBELA on May 13th, 2021

Charlie Fink (at podium) addresses an audience of over 160 avatars in VirBELA

Today, four well-known people in the metaverse shared a virtual stage in VirBELA to talk about how the metaverse will impact the future of work. (I was not in-world, but I did receive a special livestream link on YouTube to follow the proceedings at virbe.la/metaverse-stream, which I hope works for you as well. Here’s a second link if the first one doesn’t work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iH6Lj1AKi3o.)

Author and columnist Charlie Fink was moderator, asking questions and guiding the wide-ranging conversation among the panelists:

  • Alex Howland, the founder and CEO of VirBELA
  • Cathy Hackl, VR/AR/XR columnist and author of the new book The Augmented Workforce, who used to work at Magic Leap
  • Philip Rosedale, founder of Linden Lab (Second Life) and CEO of the spatial audio firm High Fidelity

Some of the interesting things from the panel which caught my ear were:

  • Cathy Hackl stated that the “metaverse” is not just limited to Ready Player One, but also Pokémon GO (even though I personally do not agree that cellphone-based “AR” is true augmented reality). She doesn’t want to see everything in one walled-garden marketplace like Oculus. She works a lot in the crypto space and wants to support decentralization, such as the portability of avatars between metaverses.
  • Philip said that COVID-19 introduced everybody to the idea of virtual worlds, or shared virtual spaces.
  • Alex was an organizational psychologist who got his original idea for VirBELA to create environments for business leaders to learn from each other, practice leadership skills, and to observe behaviour.
  • Philip recognized Second Life when he visited VirBELA, and really enjoyed walking around the virtual campus. He feels there is still a lot of work to be done to build platforms which allow people to be creative together.
  • Cathy sees ROBLOX and similar platforms as entry points for new generations of virtual world users. Her 12-year-old daughter’s friend is already making money creating and selling skins in ROBLOX.
  • Charlie commented on the fact that VirBELA lets you “lean in”, as opposed to more passive video-based services such as Zoom.
  • Philip talked about real-life use cases of his new company’s technology, High Fidelity, stressing how the three-dimensional, spatialized audio is better than a Zoom call. The company offers an SDK so that companies can integrate spatial audio into their products. High Fidelity works within the browser, and the company is working on native clients for iOS, Unity, etc.
  • Philip feels that avatars are extraordinarily important, saying that Second Life has a $600 million economy, with one of the largest segments being avatar hairstyles! But facial expression and lip movement are not yet there, and we are not yet across the Uncanny Valley effect (where avatars can appear creepy). Cathy notes that her daughter really cares a great deal about how her avatar looks in ROBLOX!
  • Alex talked about the FRAME platform, which he launched to pursue WebXR, to provide people ease of access from a wide variety of devices. There are tradeoffs between ecosystems (FRAME versus VirBELA), and they are still experimenting and innovating.
  • Cathy feels that VR/AR/XR is incredibly important to the development of the metaverse, in giving an enhanced sense of presence, and impact the way which we engage with environments. She encourages people not to restrict their thinking to just being in a VR headset.
  • Charlie asked Philip or Alex to explain what Agora is (a toolbox to allow you to build audio and video delivery into platforms, which is used in Clubhouse!). Philip noted that if the pandemic has happened even a decade earlier, it would have had a much bigger impact without services such as Agora.
  • Alex said that they has recently hosted a bar mitzvah in VirBELA, among many other unexpected uses (like speakeasies!).
  • Philip says that things are never going to be the same after the pandemic is over. It has now been shown that virtual events can be successful. New technology such as High Fidelity, starting with virtual events, are going to have many applications in future. There are also important cost and environmental aspects to holding meetings such as conferences in virtual spaces.
  • Alex notes that his company builds a lot of custom spaces for clients, and he notes that there are different approaches to world-building (i.e. building your own versus have someone build it for you).
  • Philip notes that Zoom and similar videoconferencing doesn’t have a natural network effect. If communications do embrace virtual worlds, then that will have network effects (i.e. more people want to join bigger networks, an example being Facebook and, to a lesser extent, Second Life). We still don’t know how everything is going to play out in the marketplace. A lot of CEOs are wrestling with the fact that many of their employees do not want to come back into the office, and how to build corporate culture in that new environment.
  • Philip advocated for a stable, cross-platform identity (not tied to your real-world identity), that serves to make us accountable for our behaviour.

Well, those are my rough notes. If you missed the talk, use one of the two links up top to watch and listen. It was an engaging one-hour conversation!

UPDATED: Second Life Founder and High Fidelity CEO Philip Rosedale Will Do an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit on February 23rd, 2021

Philip shared the following photo when posting about his Reddit AMA on Twitter (source)

Mark your calendars! Philip tweeted late tonight:

Join me for a Reddit AMA on Feb. 23rd from 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. Pacific Time. Ask me about Spatial Audio, VR, virtual worlds and virtual economies, avatars, and … anything.

So if you have any burning questions you’ve wanted to ask Philip, this is your perfect opportunity! When the AMA starts tomorrow, I will link to it here.

See you there!

UPDATE Feb. 23rd, 2021, 3:51 p.m.: Please accept my apoliogies for not linking to this AMA sooner; I was so tired that I lay down for a nap and landed up sleeping through the entire event!

Here’s the link to the Ask Me Anything posted to the r/IAmA subReddit, with the following introduction posted, plus the above photo as proof that he is, indeed, THE Philip Rosedale!

Hi Reddit!

I am the founder of the virtual civilization Second Life, populated by one million active users, and am now CEO and co-founder of High Fidelity — which has just released a real-time spatial audio API for apps, games, and websites. If you want to check it out, I’d love to hear what you think: highfidelity.com/api

High Fidelity’s Spatial Audio was initially built for our VR platform — we have been obsessive about audio quality from day one, spending our resources lowering latency and nailing spatialization.

Ask me about immersive spatial audio, VR, virtual worlds and spaces, avatars, and … anything.

(With me today I have /u/MaiaHighFidelity and /u/Valefox to answer technical questions about the API, too.)

This AMA has also been reposted the the r/secondlife, r//HighFidelity, r/WebRTC. and r/GameAudio subReddits.

UPDATE 4:26 p.m.: I have been informed that the AMA is still going on, as of this writing!

Editorial: Second Life Founder and High Fidelity CEO Philip Rosedale Comments on the Facebookening of Oculus

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 460 people participating from every single social VR platform and virtual world! More details here


Erica joy Baker, Director of Engineering at GitHub, recently tweeted her dismay at discovering that, upon deactivating her Facebook account, her Oculus Quest became unusable:

I deactivated my Facebook, as I often do. It made my Oculus Quest 100% unusable. Not “hard to use” or “unpleasant to use.” Unusable.

She added:

My Oculus Quest didn’t degrade gracefully after I deactivated my Facebook account. Instead, the home app went into an ANR loop. When the Quest came back up after I hard rebooted it, the home app loaded, but blocked me using anything until it could connect to my Facebook account again.

Second Life founder and High Fidelity CEO Philip Rosedale commented on her tweet:

So true and so sad. I can’t believe VR tech (which is getting better) is dominated by one company whose track record clearly suggests they will cause harm to those who would use these devices. What a bad situation.

And I replied:

This is why we need to promote and support open source social VR solutions such as Tivoli Cloud VR and Vircadia (based on your HiFi code). Thank you for your part in building that universe of possibility, Philip.

And it’s true; Philip Rosedale’s decision to make the original High Fidelity social VR platform software code available for other developers to build upon has already led to two separate, distributed open-source successors to HiFi, both of which I have written about before on this blog: Tivoli Cloud VR and Vircadia (which I would strongly encourage you to check out, if you haven’t already done so). I have recently had a guided tour of both platforms, and both look very promising!

And, of course, there are numerous examples of other, non-Facebook social VR platforms which people should explore (NeosVR, Sansar, and Sinespace* are three I highly recommend you try).

Facebook already has too much power and control over the current and future development of social virtual reality, unnecessarily forcing users of its Oculus VR devices to create accounts on its Facebook social network (so that their personal data can be further strip-mined and sold to corporations and campaigns for profit).

We need to actively promote and support metaverse alternatives to the Facebook ecosystem, which do NOT track our every click, like, relationship, glance, and gesture.

*Full disclosure: I am an embedded reporter for Sinespace, writing sponsored blogposts about the people, news and events on that virtual world/social VR platform.

UPDATED! Linden Lab To Be Acquired By an Investment Group Led by Randy Waterfield and Brad Oberwager

Please note that I am taking the entire month of July off as a self-imposed vacation from the blog so I can focus on my other work, except for sponsored blogposts, and major breaking news such as this. See you in August!


Randy Waterfield (left) and Brad Oberwager (right). Source: LinkedIn profiles


This evening, Linden Research (better known as Linden Lab, the makers of Second Life) dropped a bombshell press release: the small but profitable privately-held company which has been run pretty much independently since it was founded by Philip Rosedale in San Francisco in 1999, will be acquired by an investment group.

SAN FRANCISCO, July 9, 2020 — Linden Research, Inc. announced today it signed an agreement to be acquired by an investment group led by Randy Waterfield and Brad Oberwager. Closing of the acquisition is subject to regulatory approval by financial regulators in the U.S. related to Tilia Inc.’s status as a licensed money transmitter as well as other customary closing conditions. Upon closing, Mr. Waterfield and Mr. Oberwager will join the Board of Directors of Linden Research, Inc.

“We’re excited for this new chapter to begin. We see this as an opportunity to continue growth and expansion for Second Life and our money services business Tilia,” says Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg. “We’re grateful for the ongoing support from our community, business partners and investors. Now more than ever, there is increased recognition of the value and utility of virtual worlds to bring people together for safe, shared, and social online experiences.”

“Both the company and its virtual world community have a unique culture and creative energy that remain important to the long-term success of Second Life,” says Brad Oberwager. “There’s a bright future for both Second Life and Tilia and we’re excited to help fuel these growth opportunities.”

“Since its inception 17 years ago, Second Life has been a pioneer in the concepts of virtual societies, land and economies,” says Second Life founder Philip Rosedale, who is now CEO of High Fidelity. “I’ve known Brad for 14 years personally and professionally, and I’m confident he will bring his passion and proven strategies to help Linden Lab achieve new heights in distribution, scale, and quality while remaining true to the original vision, creativity, and community that makes Second Life unique and special.”

Mr. Oberwager has spent his entire career in technology and consumer-focused companies. Mr. Oberwager is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Jyve, a Silicon Valley based technology company. Prior to Jyve, Mr. Oberwager owned Bare Snacks, acquired by PepsiCo. Mr. Oberwager is an advisor to several technology start-ups and sits on the boards of several technology and CPG companies.

Mr. Waterfield is the Chairman and CEO of the Waterfield Group. The Waterfield Group has invested in over 100 technology, financial, insurance, bank and other companies.


One commenter on the news over at the RyanSchultz.com Discord server noted:

One of the new investors in the group that bought Linden Research [Linden Lab] is Randy Waterfield, the Wookey guy.

Wookey, of course, is the company that bought Sansar from Linden Lab earlier this year, after the platform went through two rounds of staff layoffs and almost folded.

What does all this mean? Damned if I know! I’m quite sure many Second Life users will be wondering what it all means as well. New owners could mean a shake-up at Linden Lab, and we all know how much some Second Life users hate changes (witness the fuss last year over Tilia).

Of course, it might also be the best thing to happen to the platform, a new opportunity (with fresh investment!) to take it to the next level of growth.

Interesting times, indeed! Stay tuned.

UPDATE 11:08 p.m.: The news took many by surprise, including the team who work on the most popular Second Life viewer program, Firestorm, who tweeted:

Please don’t ask us, this was news to us too.

Longtime SL blogger Inara Pey reported:

I reached out to linden Lab on finding out the news, but was informed the company has no further comment on the acquisition beyond the press release.

However, given that the acquisition will see Mr. Waterfield and Mr. Oberwager joining the board, I would anticipate that – given the nature of acquisitions – it is unlikely there will be any immediate visible changes to Linden Lab, Second Life or Tilia Inc., and, and the company will likely to continue to operate in a “business as usual” mode with regards to both Second Life operations and the community for the immediate future. That said, there will likely be a lot of speculation as to the future of SL, together with concerns / fears as to what the longer-term future might be.

While it is purely speculative on my part, I would hazard a guess that the acquisition will take into consideration the increased interest Second life has witnessed over the last year(ish), and particularly as a result of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, and will see in inflow of cash for the company that will allow it to (hopefully) meet its immediate goals with both Second Life and Tilia Inc., and allow both platforms to continue to be developed.

And (of course!) there is an ever-growing comment thread over on the Second Life Community Forums.

UPDATE July 10th, 2:08 p.m.: In response to the intense level of speculation on the above-mentioned comment thread on the SL community forums, Brett Linden, Senior Director of Marketing for Linden Lab, made the following statement:

Good day, all!

Just jumping in to respond to a few of the comments…

A few folks are speculating that this is the end of SL and nothing could be further than the truth. Any talk of dismantling or radically changing the fundamentals of SL that we know and love is inaccurate. While we can’t get into specific details about the deal itself, I want to emphasize the fact that this keeps Linden Lab as an independent venture led by two investors who have a great deal of awareness about what SL is and isn’t. They are excited to join and help us grow both SL and Tilia while also respecting and recognizing the needs and sensitivities of the existing culture and community. 

And, in response to a question about when more detailed information would be forthcoming about the acquisition, and when the new owners would address the Second Life community, Brett said:

Great question! We look forward to being able to share more as soon as we can and I know that Brad is eager to meet the community as we get closer to the closing/approval date.