News Watch: What I Didn’t Blog About in April and May!

I’m constantly on the look out for stories for the RyanSchultz.com blog, bookmarking anything and everything that I or my readers might find of interest—news and announcements about social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse (including the blockchain-based platforms).

At the moment, I’m so backlogged with my bookmarks, that today I’ve just decided to share many of them with you, in an effort to get caught up! Each would likely be the seed for a proper blogpost all on its own, but here each one will just get a sentence or two, a brief annotation only. Hope you don’t mind!

Ready? Let’s dig in!


Geekwire: ‘Second Life’ creator shares lessons learned from one of the world’s first metaverses (an interview with Linden Lab’s founding CEO, Philip Rosedale).

Businesswire: Razorfish Study Finds 52% of Gen Z Gamers Feel More Like Themselves in the Metaverse than in Real Life (Razorfish and VICE Media Group released findings from a new research study, titled The Metaverse: A View from Inside).

Road to VR: Virtual Social Platform ‘Rec Room’ Hits 3 Million Monthly Active VR Users (Rec Room continues to rack up some impressive statistics).

The Conversation: Can you truly own anything in the metaverse? A law professor explains how blockchains and NFTs don’t protect virtual property (a thought-provoking editorial by Indiana University law professor João Marinotti)

Medium: World War “M” and the curse of the Metaverse, by Avi Bar-Zeev (an editorial where Avi poses the question: If “The Metaverse” represents our digital future, who decides what “it” is?)

metamandrill: Interview with Founder Adam Frisby of Sine Wave Entertainment (an interview with the man behind both Sinespace and Breakroom)

NFTs are Legally Problematic (a 46-minute YouTube video featuring lawyer Steve Mould and NFT pundit Coffeezilla)

24/7 Crypto: Metaverse hotel for avatars to open in Decentraland next week: “The first ever metaverse hotel (*cough*cough*Second Life*cough*cough*) is being opened next week in Decentraland by Singapore’s Millennium Hotels and Resorts.”

TIME: 6 Lessons on the Future of the Metaverse From the Creator of Second Life (a good overview article, with the writer talking to both Philip Rosedale and Tom Boellstorff about the lessons learned from Second Life).

moOMNI: Around the Metaverse by DrFran Babcock (short but essential reading; Fran shares her thoughts about the community within the metaverse).

Road to VR: A Dating App for Meeting Avatars in VR Aims to Build Very Real Relationships (a review of the Flirtual matchmaking app)

XR Today: Sensorium, Humanity 2.0 Launch Vatican City Art Metaverse (Ultra high-end social VR platform Sensoirum Galaxy partners with the Humanity 2.0 Foundation to build a virtual gallery for Vatican City). “The company’s Sensorium Galaxy platform is currently in beta testing, with a launch date set for later in the year to expand its availability across devices, including VR headsets, PCs, and mobile devices.”

Road to VR: Meta to Merge ‘Venues’ Event Space into ‘Horizon Worlds’ Social VR Platform (starting June 6th, 2022, Horizon Worlds users will have direct access to live sports, concerts, comedy, and user-created meet-ups in Horizon Venues).

WIRED: This VR App Has Legs: Spatial adds support for full-body virtual avatars, giving realism in VR a step up (the Spatial social VR app now had a full-body option).

The Atlantic: Lessons From 19 Years in the Metaverse (an interview with longtime Second Life blogger Wagner james Au).

Medium: Web3.0 Must Be Destroyed (long, but well worth the read).

Harvard Business Review: Cautionary Tales from Cryptoland (interview with Molly White, creator of the website Web3 Is Going Just Great).

Current Affairs: Why This Computer Scientist Says All Cryptocurrency Should “Die in a Fire” (interview with UC-Berkeley computer science professor Nicholas Weaver)


Now that I’ve shared some of my most interesting finds with you, I hope that this list will tide you over until I can whip up some fresh new content for you! Expect more blogposts soon. (If people find these news roundups useful, I might continue to write them, as well as my regular blogposts.)

Philip Rosedale and Brad Oberwager Appear on a Special Episode of the Lab Gab Talk Show in Second Life

Lab Gab host Strawberry Linden with Linden Lab founder Philip Rosedale (Philip Linden) and Linden Lab executive chairman Brad Oberwager (Oberwolf Linden); image is a screencapture from the YouTube video

On January 13th, Linden Lab announced:

Have you heard the news? Second Life founder Philip Rosedale is back! With today’s announcement about High Fidelity’s investment in Linden Lab, we’re excited to welcome back Philip Rosedale in the all-new role as Second Life strategic advisor. Philip is a recognized metaverse pioneer who led the early days of Second Life to help form and inform the now-mainstream concepts of virtual economies, cultures, and communities. In his new role, he will bring his vast virtual world experience and vision to help shape the future of Second Life. 

And today Linden Lab released a pre-recorded hour-long episode of their popular talk show, Lab Gab, hosted by the ever-capable Strawberry Linden (formerly known as the SL blogger Strawberry Singh, and now a Linden Lab employee herself):

As I have often said before, Philip is a very articulate and highly informed speaker with many years of experience in virtual reality and virtual worlds, and of course Brad is no stranger to the microphone himself! I only caught the last few minutes of the streaming video on YouTube myself, but I will be sure to go back later this evening and watch this in full! Enjoy.

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 SL’s 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.

Avi also talked about 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. uncomfortable if you have to wear them all day), 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.

UPDATED! High Fidelity Invests in Linden Lab, the Makers of Second Life, and Philip Rosedale Rejoins Linden Lab as a Strategic Advisor

The Second Life website (image source)

Today, Linden Lab (more formally known as Linden Research, Inc., the makers of Second Life) dropped a press release:

High Fidelity announced today that it acquired an interest in Linden Research, Inc. (“Linden Lab”), the pioneering developer of the virtual world Second Life. The deal includes a cash investment and distributed computing patents. Members of High Fidelity’s metaverse team are joining the company, and Philip Rosedale, who is a founder of both companies, is also rejoining Second Life as a strategic advisor.

The transaction will help Second Life further scale its operations and strengthen its commitment to growing an innovative, inclusive, and diverse metaverse where its inhabitants’ ingenuity drives real-world value for themselves and others.

“No one has come close to building a virtual world like Second Life,” says Second Life founder and High Fidelity co-founder, Philip Rosedale. “Big Tech giving away VR headsets and building a metaverse on their ad-driven, behavior-modification platforms isn’t going to create a magical, single digital utopia for everyone. Second Life has managed to create both a positive, enriching experience for its residents — with room for millions more to join — and built a thriving subscription-based business at the same time. Virtual worlds don’t need to be dystopias.”

High Fidelity is the company Philip Rosedale founded after leaving Linden Lab. Its first product, an ambitious social VR platform called High Fidelity, failed to catch on and was shut down in early 2020. Its successor product (also called High Fidelity) is a 3D spatialized audio system for use in other metaverse platforms. So, when I’m talking about High Fidelity (HiFi for short), I always make sure to indicate whether I am talking about the company itself, its former social VR product (the old High Fidelity) or the new 3D audio product (the new High Fidelity)!

The website for the new High Fidelity (image source)

Wagner James Au, writer of the long-time virtual worlds blog New World Notes (from whom I first learned about this breaking news), has this to say:

Just got this message from Philip Rosedale, about the future of Second Life:

“I’m not back full-time, but it feels great to get to be talking to Lindens about design! I think the vital thing to focus on is demonstrating that a virtual world can scale to greater capacity while being inclusive and fair and safe for humanity.”

Exciting and welcome news, indeed! I will update this blogpost with more details as I acquire them. Stay tuned!

UPDATE Jan. 14th, 2022: The Wall Street Journal, in an article titled Second Life Founder Returns to Take On the Metaverse (archived version), reported yesterday:

Philip Rosedale in 2003 launched the online game where players using avatars can hang out, socialize with other players and make purchases. Second Life is a forerunner of the virtual worlds that big tech companies are now trying to create and that are often referred to as the metaverse. Mr. Rosedale is returning to the company he left in 2010 to serve as a strategic adviser and shepherd its expansion as the metaverse gains wider traction, he said in an interview…

Mr. Rosedale said that the business models underpinning some of the current tech giants, such as tracking user behavior to target ads, would be potentially harmful in the metaverse, which is more immersive than current digital platforms. “I think that there is a real genuine, existential risk associated with how that gets done,” he said.

Second Life may have had a head start on some of the metaverse companies it aims to compete with, but to some extent is the underdog. Second Life rolled out before Facebook was founded, but has hovered at around one million users since 2008, according to a company spokesperson. Meta’s Facebook, Instagram and other services sported more than 3.5 billion monthly users combined, according to its most recent earnings. Epic Games Inc.’s Fortnite videogame and game company Roblox Corp. , which are also making moves in the metaverse, have many times the number of users that Second Life has.

Brad Oberwager, chairman of Second Life parent company Linden Research Inc., said he is working with Mr. Rosedale to inject momentum into the business. Second Life already offers the ability for people to withdraw money from in-game sales into the real world, a feature lacking in some other emerging metaverses, which should attract users, he said. Coming upgrades focused on further improving the social and economic components of the game, such as the avatars and digital marketplace, promise to drive user growth, he added.

The Wall Street Journal article goes on to state that “Mr. Rosedale is bringing with him to Second Life a small cadre of developers, a number of patents and an unspecified financial investment from the company he founded in 2013, High Fidelity Inc.”

In an interview with c|net, titled Second Life founder returns to revamp his original metaverse, Philip goes into a little more detail:

Rosedale is going to be a “strategic adviser” for Second Life, while his company High Fidelity looks to infuse Second Life with some new ideas, simultaneously working on other ideas for future tech, including – at some point – VR again. “We’re announcing that we’ve shifted a group of seven people, some patents, some money. We’re investing in Second Life, to keep working on Second Life,” Rosedale told me. “Two of those patents are moderation in a decentralized environment patents, which is really cool.”

The reason for the shift is that Second Life still makes money and still has a considerably larger community than most VR platforms: It’s had over 73 million accounts created since it launched, and estimates of active users hover around 900,000. Rosedale sees the shift as solving problems while VR hardware still gets thought out. 

Despite the seeming success of the Oculus Quest 2, he still doesn’t think it’s enough. “The headset is so broken that it’s going to actually take, I think, five years to get to something that’s good,” he says, “and we as a startup would neither survive, nor would it make sense for us to sit around for five years.” He sees building up Second Life as a better platform that will be VR-optional until that magically perfect hardware arrives. 

The entire c|net article is well worth a read, by the way. This news has also been covered by publications such as The Verge, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and CoinTelegraph.

Honestly, the more I read, the better this sounds! I think this is exciting news for both Linden Lab and High Fidelity, and I wish all involved every success in this endeavour.