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I deactivated my Facebook, as I often do. It made my Oculus Quest 100% unusable. Not “hard to use” or “unpleasant to use.” Unusable.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
HOUSEKEEPING NOTE: I realize that when I talk about High Fidelity now, I could be talking about two entirely separate platforms:
the old, social VR platform High Fidelity, which of course is now essentially shut down (although those of us with accounts can still visit it); and
the new platform, a 2D virtual world with 3D audio.
Because of this, from now on I will always refer to “the old High Fidelity” and “the new High Fidelity” on this blog, to make it clear which platform I am referring to. I will also create a new blogpost category called The New High Fidelity. Of course, High Fidelity is the perfect name for this new platform, with its primary feature of spatial audio! (This is one of the reasons why it’s a good idea to have a separate platform name from your company name, however.)
I created a map for High Fidelity with 21 audio zones (9 big and 12 small), tagged with different contexts to facilitate emergent conversations. Audio-falloff is annotated with speaking & lurking rings. I’m hoping to test and iterate on it more this weekend.
Now, I really have to hand it to Kent. Many days, I seem to be operating in a pandemic-lockdown-induced brain fog, but he took Philip Rosedale’s new platform and ran with it.
Basically, Kent took his taxonomy of social VR and created a diagram for people to inhabit, complete with chat circles indicating the sound fall-off! It’s a novel, even genius, way to frame a conversation in a virtual world, and it was so simple to do; all he had to do was create and upload an image and embed it in the invitation URL he sent around. The following diagram gives a sense of scale:
And, after spending half an hour or so conversing with the people he invited to his world, I am now beginning to see some of the benefits of such a platform. As I said before in my initial, somewhat negative first impressions of the new High Fidelity, I am primarily a visually-oriented person, as opposed to an audio-oriented person. In fact, I don’t even own a set of headphones! Instead I used the microphone on my webcam, and I still found that I was able to join and leave conversations easily.
One of the things that Kent really likes about the new High Fidelity is the ability to break off into side conversations easily, by physically moving away from other groups. For example, Jessica Outlaw (a social VR researcher whom I have written about before) and I had such a conversation, talking shop about various social VR and virtual worlds in the Social & Mental Presence circle:
Jessica (who was also planning to attend an engagement party in the new High Fidelity later today) mentioned to me how she had difficulties getting people to use even simpler social VR platforms like Mozilla Hubs, and how she thought that this would be a much easier way to introduce inexperienced people to virtual worlds. And yes, I agree: even the dead-simple Mozilla Hubs can be a somewhat steep learning curve to somebody that is brand new to virtual reality and virtual worlds, let alone much more complicated platforms like Second Life, where newbies need to spend at least an hour getting their bearings!
Among the guests was Alex Coulombe (whose work I have written about before), who in another side conversation, talked about how he could see offering a choice for people attending a theatrical production in VR: higher-end users could choose to watch and hear the play in a VR headset, while lower-end users might opt to just hear the play in 3D audio via the new High Fidelity platform, maybe even while out on a jog!
So, I am slowly warming to the potential applications of the new High Fidelity! Thank you to Kent Bye for inviting me to the conversation.
UPDATE 3:51 p.m.: Kent Bye gave me permission to quote from our discussion afterward on Twitter:
Thanks for coming out! Glad you were able to get some new insights for how High Fidelity might fit into the ecosystem. I’m personally really excited for it as a way to rapidly prototype 2D blueprints of spaces that facilitate specific social dynamics.
The interstitial hallway conversations and serendipitous collisions are some of the hardest things to recreate in VR and embodied virtual worlds — at least so far. Setting and maintaining deep context across a large number of people is hard, even at conferences where there’s a pretty specific context already. Connecting people with their problems to solve and innate interests is a persistent problem across all mediums. High Fidelity has the opportunity to start to do something different that other solutions haven’t yet. I think of it as a potential portal into an embodied experience, but also to facilitate these more ephemeral threshold spaces where a lot of the best conversations end up happening.
It starts to solve the problem of: I want to talk about this topic, but I don’t want to sit in an empty VR/virtual room until someone comes about. So you can hang out with the audio while doing other things and be more patient with waiting folks to drop by. Setting a deeper context for gathering usually happens with Birds of a Feather: Meet at Location X and Time Y and we’ll talk about Z. This sets an intention to have a very focused and productive conversation with deep and meaningful shared purpose. By annotating spaces, then you can start to potentially remove the “at Time Y” part of the equation, and have a persistent location where people will organically gather around topics. Mixing the planned and unplanned will go into my next design iteration.
I need a lot more iterations to be able to set the proper context and rules that facilitate this, but having the context deeply embedded into the architecture of a space has the potential to create a hub where people go to meet and collide with others in the industry, kind of what happened today based upon who saw my few Tweets about it.
Having completed my five stages of grief about High Fidelity’s change of direction, I’m now able to view last year’s events through an analytical eye, drawing my conclusions on what can be improved in getting a virtual world to thrive.
Using Mark Zuckerberg’s breakdown of virtual reality (hardware and systems; apps and experiences; and platform services), she lays out several well-reasoned criticisms of HiFi:
In the part most important to Mark Zuckerberg – apps and experiences – High Fidelity both excelled and fell short: While all of the experiences produced by the company…were stellar, apps that facilitate social communication or media consumption – like e.g. text chat or synced video – showed great need of improvement and were often only made possible by efforts of the open source community.
However, she gives high marks to High Fidelity’s platform services:
What always had been High Fidelity’s main enterprise is the second most important area on Mark Zuckerberg’s list: platform services. While quite some users had their doubts about Philip Rosedale’s approach of favoring bleeding edge technology when it came to new implementations, to me personally there couldn’t be any better social VR package than the one High Fidelity was offering:
The open source code enabled community members to implement desired features themselves and is now – that the company has gone offline – keeping its promise of an eternally functioning virtual world.
The peer-to-peer architecture enabled content creators to be the masters of their own domains – without having to follow any TOS, everybody was responsible for their own content – free to install whatever they imagined, ranging from super safe G-rated worlds to X-rated dungeons.
By splitting up the server load into different assignment clients, High Fidelity also managed to gather 500+ avatars in one non-instanced space. Whoever has gone through the hassle of trying to join their friends in an instanced experience or game just has to love this option. And who – like me – also loves the stirring feeling of being part of a large crowd will find nothing comparable in today’s VR environment.
the importance of social VR companies in defining, knowing and catering to their target audience (using ENGAGE as an example);
HiFi needed to focus on creating a satisfying, bug-free user experience (“Instead of investing into flashy one-time events it might have been advantageous to focus on creating a permanent and entertaining starter experience with a bullet proof tutorial and enticing things to do in order to motivate visitors to come back.”);
HiFi didn’t pay attention to competitors and was overly confident that it could replicate the success of Second Life in a different era from 2003 (as I have also written about);
High Fidelity’s long history of communication problems with its userbase, which led to a sense of alienation;
HiFi’s lack of a clear code of conduct, which left many users feeling insecure: “High Fidelity never stated what kind of offenses would be met with which kind of punishment… nobody could ever be sure how bad behavior would be met.”
But Xaos saved her strongest critiques to one area where she feels High Fidelity made some grievous tactical errors: the company’s impatience to grow. She writes:
Unfortunately High Fidelity applied its mantra “Build it and they will to come,” not only to content creation in VR but also to its real life assets. When there were still no more than 30 concurrent users around in 2018, High Fidelity went on a hiring spree, quadrupling its original headcount to a workforce of 80 while tripling its original office space to two subsidiaries in San Francisco and one in Seattle. I never managed to calculate the exact burn rate, but I believed Philip Rosedale when he argued last April’s pivoting with US$10,000 monthly expenses per user.
To this day this unrealistic growing attempt is inexplicable to me. If I had been an investor I surely would have put a full stop to this amount of spending too, but as one of its highly engaged high-cost users I just wish High Fidelity would have balanced its expenses in line with its slow but steady population growth.
The snowball effect of visitors becoming content creators and enticing new users themselves could have led to an avalanche of attractions for even more new users, if High Fidelity wouldn’t have been impatient.
Instead of giving its community members time to grow into their roles as content creators or event organizers, High Fidelity turned to setting up unsurpassable events by itself, and even paid users for attendance by handing out prizes or Amazon gift cards. This irritated the natural growing process, as these well-meant contests kept the content creators busy, while also being a big competition to individually organized community events.
And when High Fidelity then pulled the plug on all its company operated domains in April 2019, there weren’t enough skilled and motivated community event organizers around to attract new users, and without events there was no more appeal for new users to pay a visit.
As I see it, a more natural growing attempt, incentivizing community members to attract new visitors, could have been beneficial to the overall user numbers.