Editorial: New Year, New Directions—Why I Am Substantially Cutting Back on My Coverage of Second Life, and Refocusing the RyanSchultz.com Blog on Virtual Reality and Social VR

Photo by Jordan Ladikos on Unsplash

When I started this blog in July of 2017, I had never intended to become a Second Life blogger. There were hundreds of other bloggers out there who were doing a far better job than I could of covering Second Life, and they still are! Throw in the Facebook groups, Discord servers, and YouTube channels, and you have a thriving commentary community on the vibrant ecosystem that is Second Life.

The original purpose of my blog was to write about Linden Lab’s foray into social VR, Sansar. I had been fortunate enough to get into the closed beta test of Sansar in January of 2017, an event which prompted the purchase of my first virtual reality headset, and I timed the launch of what was then called The Sansar Newsblog to coincide with the official opening of Sansar to the general public, on July 31st, 2017.

Over the five-and-a-half years that I have been writing this blog, I slowly broadened my coverage to report on other early social virtual reality platforms, such as AltspaceVR, VRChat, and Linden Lab’s founding CEO Philip Rosedales’ ambitious project, High Fidelity. And, as the number of virtual worlds and social VR platforms increased, I began to write more about them, too. My list of metaverse platforms remains one of the most popular pages on the RyanSchultz.com blog.

But my abiding passion for all things metaverse was born on March 20th, 2007, when I set up my first Second Life avatar, Heath Homewood. I often joke that I got my Ph.D. In the Metaverse from nearly 16 years of study at the University of Second Life! And I still believe that SL is the perfect, fully mature model of a metaverse, which newer social VR companies would be wise to study, learn from, and emulate.

I started writing about Second Life because I wanted to share my bounty of tips and tricks on how to pull together a good-looking avatar, without spending a fortune in Linden dollars! I still get an immense sense of satisfaction from creating a polished, head-to-toe avatar look as inexpensively as possible, and sharing with you exactly how I did it, so you could do it, too! I wanted to share my passion with you all.

Second Life was my first love, my introduction to the concept of the metaverse, and a love I still have, and probably always will have. But I have also been doing a lot of thinking these past few months about this blog, and the direction in which I want to take it.

Therefore, I have decided to cut back substantially on my Second Life coverage, and refocus on the reason I started this blog in the first place: virtual reality in general, and social VR in particular.

This doesn’t mean that I will never write about SL again. For example, Second Life will be celebrating its 20th anniversary this summer, and I have every intention of reporting on that milestone!

But it does mean that my days as the (uncrowned) Freebie Queen of Second Life are now over. I have decided that will no longer be reporting on bargains and free items in SL. Yesterday’s report on the imminent closing of The Free Dove seems a fitting final post in the Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies category on my blog.

I turn 59 in a few days, and it’s time for me to re-find the joy and wonder I once had when I first slipped on my trusty Oculus Rift VR headset five years ago, and went exploring, to see what I could discover. There’s a lot going on in the VR/AR/MR/XR space, and I want to refocus my attention on that.

I know that many of you who followed my Second Life coverage will be disappointed, but I hooe that you will understand and respect my decision. And I also hope that you will continue to join me on this journey!

Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

UPDATED! Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies: Updates on Two Long-Running Freebie Stores, The Free Dove and Ajuda SL Brasil

The Free Dove freebie store in Second Life is closing after almost 17 years

I’m still taking a break from blogging, but this morning I came across the news on the Pure Eggs & Spam blog, and I wanted to share it with my readers: Palomma Casanova, the owner of The Free Dove (one of Second Life’s most popular and longest-running freebie stores), has sadly passed away after an illness. I’m going to post the complete text of a notecard sent to The Free Dove group by her colleague, Dollen McMillan:

Hello dear friends of Palomma,

It is with great sadness and pain that I have to announce you that Palomma Casanova left us on Saturday, January 14 after a long illness. This is a shock to me and a huge loss. She fought her illness with all the energy she had and endured the pain very bravely. Her passion for her work and for helping others was admirable.

For almost 12 years, this kind, generous and talented woman was by my side day after day. She will be missed by all of us who had the chance to know her. May she rest peacefully with all my love.

About Free Dove

When the subject of her eventual departure was brought up, Palomma’s response was that Free Dove would POOOOF when it was over for her. Free Dove was her baby, the vehicle that allowed her to express her love of people and her willingness to help them, but she didn’t want it to outlive her. She had created Free Dove in 2006 and when she left, her group had reached nearly 150,000 members, a rare achievement. We will remember her as the generous woman who dedicated 17 years of her life to SL citizens.

I have no idea when Free Dove will disappear. In the meantime, I have blocked all payment boxes for Free Dove shops, I am unable to refund your last payments, but your shops can remain in place until the end comes.

Regarding Christmas trees and Christmas gifts, I will be returning them this Wednesday because the holiday season is over. As for last month’s Hunts panels, I will try to change the textures and replace them with an image to pay homage to Palomma.

Concerning The Free Dove group, you will retain the ability to send notices as long as the building exists, but please don’t abuse and follow Palomma’s rules. The day the building disappears, I will remove the ability to send notices to all.

As for creators’ gifts and the prims belonging to other people, they will all be returned the day the land is abandoned.

Thank you for taking the time to read me.

Dollen McMillan

The Free Dove group notices are full of people posting notes and testimonials about Palomma, as word filters out. I do not have further details about Palomma, but I will also miss her and her tireless work in Second Life. I would advise you that, since we do not know when her freebie store will shut down, pay your visit now.

The Free Dove, along with the freebie store at the Ajuda SL Brasil Portuguese-speaking community gateway sim, were my top two picks for the best freebie stores in Second Life (you can see my full list of recommendations here). And, unfortunately, after a recent visit to Ajuda SL Brasil, I must report that this once-excellent freebie store appears to have fallen on hard(er) times.

There are now many empty walls at the once-excellent freebie store at Ajuda SL Brasil, especially on the first floor, and many vendors I remember from before are missing.

I noticed that of the vendors who once offered fashionable free items here have vanished, leaving many empty walls in the freebie store. Much of what remains is the older, system-layers-and-flexiprims clothing which most Second Life avatars don’t want to wear. There are still a few good mesh clothing finds here and there, such as this outfit I was able to cobble together for an alt (see image, right).

The Nia top is one of a collection of gifts for women from Fran Gustav on the main floor, and the patched and worn Bella blue jeans are a freebie from Dreams, located on the third floor. (Please note that some of the freebies in mesh clothing at Ajuda SL Brasil come in standard sizing, instead of sizes to fit Maitreya Lara and other brands of mesh bodies.)

On my return visit today to double-check the locations of the free clothing in this image, I noticed that there seems to be some effort underway to move content and reorganize the third floor of the store, but still, a lot of fabulous freebies I remember from before are no longer there.

So, I regret to report that one well-known SL freebie store is closing soon, and yet another is not what it used to be. This could be a sign that the era of freebie stores in Second Life is coming to an end.

UPDATE Jan. 19th, 2023: A memorial, with books of condolence which you can sign, has been set up for Palomma Casanova (and her alt, Dyannia!) just inside the main entrance of The Free Dove, if you wish to come and pay your respects:

Also, there is a discussion thread about Palomma Casanova’s passing on the official Second Life community forums, here. As with The Free Dove SL group I mentioned above, people are sharing stories and memories of Palomma and The Free Dove.

UPDATE Jan. 23rd, 2023: Tastic (one of the many SL brands who had free items available through The Free Dove) has created tops for both men and women, to commemorate the run of the venerable freebie store. (By their calculations, The Free Dove actually started in 2005, so that would indeed make it 17 years, a remarkable achievement!)

The tops are free, and you do not need to join a group to get them. Just click on the signs inside the entrance, near the stairs. The tops come in a wide variety of sizes to fit most male and female mesh bodies.

P.S. these tops will also be available at The Free Dove, next to the memorial to Palomma Casanova I mentioned above, until the store shuts down. Thanks, Tastic!

UPDATE Jan. 27th, 2023: Shelby Monitor posted an update to The Free Dove group yesterday:

Patch Linden will keep Palomma’s Park as a memorial and will not change. [The] Free Dove has 90 [days] till [it] will be no longer [be around]. The store will remain open and untouched till then, and we receive further notice from Linden Lab.

Her land will go to market, and I hope possibly to purchase the land and be able to make a place for people to get help, and
hopefully I can find designers to put [out] free gifts to help those in need.

Thank You everyone for all your support.
Shelby Monitor

Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies: Ryan’s Quick and Dirty Guide to the 2022 Holiday Shop and Hop

Yes, I am still percolating, but of course, the holidays wait for no one! This year, the annual Second Life Holiday Shop and Hop covers 16 sims, simply groaning with discounted items for sale. And each vendor booth has a free Christmas present for you—and a few have more than one!

I have spent the past week scouring social media for information to learn which stores are participating in this year’s Holiday Shop and Hop, and what gifts each store is giving. Then I drew up a draft list, loaded up Second Life supermodel Moesha Heartsong, and hit all 16 sims, to pick up, unpack, and inspect each gift from that list. As more information came in, I edited and updated that list, and it is now at version 3.0!

This final list consists of my picks for the best gifts from this season’s Shop and Hop (mostly fashion for female avatars, but also some male fashion, as well as any offers of gift cards or free store credit). Each item on the list includes an exact SLURL, so you can teleport directly to the gift, pick it up, and head on to your next score! Having all one sim’s gifts grouped together means less teleporting back and forth between sims, a factor to consider early on in the event, when some popular sims get congested with avatar traffic.

I have posted that detailed list to my own Second Life group, called the RyanSchultz.com Steals, Deals & Freebies group (just search for “ryanschultz”, all one word, under Groups in Search, and you will find it easily). More information on the RyanSchultz.com Steals, Deals & Freebies group can be found here. The group join fee is only L$50, and you will find it money well spent, as I often share many bargains and freebies throughout the year, which never make it to this blog!

As an alternative to my list, or if you really want to make sure you haven’t missed any gifts that I skipped over, I still feel that the single best way to tackle the Shop and Hop events is to watch Naria Panthar’s videos on YouTube.

Naria always posts one or two videos where she unpack every single gift from the event, both non-wearable items and avatar clothing, and shows you what they look like. Watch the videos with the audio at two times normal speed, and keep a pen and paper handy to note the stores which have gifts you want (Naria herself recommends watching and listening at 2X speed, so it doesn’t take as long!).

Then, use this handy list which Linden Lab has provided to find your Shop and Hop store by name, teleport in, and snap up your present! (Note that, in some cases, a store SLURL from this list might accidentally stick up behind a wall or, in one case, on top of the roof! This is another good reason to join the RyanSchultz.com Steals, Deals & Freebies group—I have tested all the SLURLs, and that should not happen!)

The Holiday Shop and Hop event is on now, and runs until January 2nd, 2023, so you have plenty of time to pop in and scoop up some fabulous freebies for yourself!

UPDATED for December 10th! Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies: Advent Calendars and 12 Days of Christmas Calendars in 2022

Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash

It’s that most wonderful time of the year! And I’m talking about the time where on-the-ball freebie fashionistas can scoop up dozens of free gifts from the many Second Life stores which have either an Advent calendar (running Dec. 1st to Dec. 24th or 25th) or a Twelve Days of Christmas calendar (usually running between Dec. 12th or 13th and Dec. 24th or 25th).

Lists of Stores with Advent Calendars and 12 Days of Christmas Calendars

The Advent Calendar list by TeleportHub.com

If you’re looking for a list of such calendars, here are some that I have found useful (note that this list will be updated as I find new ones; many are not published until later in the day on December 1st, or even on December 2nd!):

  • TeleportHub.com’s Advent Calendar Store List 2022 is already up!
  • UPDATE 9:53 p.m.: December Advent Listing by Fabulously Free in SL.
  • UPDATE Dec. 2nd, 2022: Holiday Sales and Advent List from Seraphim.
  • UPDATE Dec. 6th, 2022: Dreamer’s 2022 Advent Calendar List, from the Dreamer’s Virtual World blog (there’s also a gallery on Flickr). Dreamer’s list also tells you which calendars allow you to collect the previous days’ presents, either for free (no group needed), free with group, or paid with group! Very handy info to have. What I like to do for those Advent calendars where I can pick up all the previous days’ gifts, is wait until Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, teleport in, and then pick them all up at one time!
  • UPDATE Dec. 2nd, 2022: Second Life Syndicate has a Google spreadsheet with over 200 Advent and Twelve Days of Christmas calendars, which you can access here (scroll down and click on the link that says “Commenting Spreadsheet”, which can only accommodate up to 100 people at one time; a second spreadsheet, called “Published Spreadsheet”, will be published soon, but is not yet available).
  • Low Price Fashion in Second Life is a little-known Japanese blog which, last year, posted a daily roundup of that day’s Advent calendar gifts. I expect they will do the same this year.
  • Last year, the very hardworking folks over at the Russian-language VKontakte group Second Life – FREE posted a daily roundup of that day’s Advent calendar gifts, with pictures! And those Russian freebie fashionistas are doing it again for 2022. They even went so far as to create an alphabetical list of stores with links to pictures of each day’s Advent gift! Bookmark this list and check back daily; this is probably THE easiest way to actually see each day’s calendar gifts without teleporting all over the grid, collecting and unpacking items! (Please remember to use the Russian-to-English translator in your Chrome browser, or Google Translate, to read the posts in this Russian-language community. You do not need to set up an account on VKontakte; just click on the “Not Now!” link every time the nagging pop-up appears asking you to log in.)
  • UPDATE Dec. 10th, 2022: I don’t know how on Earth I could have missed this wonderful resource until today, but Second Life YouTuber Naria Panthar has a Discord server, which you can join here. And in that Discord server is an -calendars channel, where somebody posts pictures of as many Advent calendar gifts as they can find! There’s much less clicking involved than with the VKontake group I mentioned above, all you have to do is scroll through each day’s listings! Even better, a direct SLURL to the gift is included. A big thank you to hupe, who makes these valuable posts! This might well be the best and easiest way yet to see what each SL store is offering, without having to teleport all over the grid, and then unpack and try on gifts.
A sample of hupe’s work from the -calendars channel on Maria Panthar’s Discord

Ryan’s Picks: Stores I Will Be Visiting Every Day

This year, instead of wearing myself out trying to hit every single calendar on the grid, I will be focusing my energy on just a select few which, year after year, consistently offer the best gifts. Here are my top picks for 2022!

  • Firelight Hair has a Twelve Days of calendar running from December 13th to 24th (you do need to join the Firelight group for free). You have to pick up each gift on the day it is offered. The gifts are mostly women’s hairstyles, but there will also be a few unisex styles. All hair gifts usually come with a mini 2 or 3-colour HUD.
  • 7 Deadly s[K]ins always has an advent tree in their store, with generous gifts every single day from Dec. 1st through to the 31st! Please note that you do have to join the store group, called SEVEN – [7DS]; there is a group join fee (when I checked on Nov. 30th, it was L$500). To get each day’s present from the tree, simply pay the vendor L$1, and it will automatically be refunded. If you missed a day, you can buy previous days’ gifts for L$25 each. Apparently, they are also giving away gifts each weekend, so pop in!

In the room immediately to the left of the 7 Deadly S[k]ins Advent tree, you can purchase a fatpack of skins for L$1 from the Today’s Offer board, as well as pick up another free skin fatpack from the Giftboard, plus there are six Mini-Mania boards to try your luck for even more skins (see arrows in the picture below):

  • WOW Skins had extremely generous gifts of skin fatpacks every day in their Advent calendar, and I expect nothing less this year! (UPDATE Dec. 1st: Looks like this year it’s just single skins each day, no fatpacks!) You do have to be a member of their group (the group costs L$350).
  • Essenz has an Advent calendar running from Dec. 1st to 24th, where you can pick up a gift of high-quality women’s footwear every day (you must be a group member; the Essenz store group costs L$350 to join). If you missed a day, or you are not a group member, you can pick up previous days’ gifts for only L$50 each.
  • Every year, the Baby Monkey 12 Days of Christmas calendar (Dec. 13th to 24th) offers a free gift each day (women’s clothing and footwear). All the gifts together form a complete, colour-coordinated capsule wardrobe! You do have to show up each day to pick up that day’s gift (no group needed; just pay the vendor L$1, and it is automatically refunded).
An example (from 2 years ago) of the gifts from the 12 Days of Christmas calendar at Baby Monkey; every year, the gifts form a colour-coordinated capsule wardrobe in three colours!
  • JUMO will be giving away lovely gifts of women’s apparel and jewelry from Dec. 15th, 2022 to Jan. 1st, 2023 (no group required, and you can visit on New Year’s Day and pick up all the gifts at one time). This is the place to pick up some beautiful ballgowns and costume jewelry!
  • Last year, SOFIA had some absolutely gorgeous ballgowns and jewelry in their advent calendar. This year, their calendar will run over 20 days, from Dec. 5th to Christmas Day. You must join the SOFIA store group for free to pick up these presents!
  • ALB Dream Fashion will have a calendar again this year, stuffed with gifts for both male and female avatars (the first Advent gift is already available when I checked on Nov. 30th!). If interested, join the group now while it is still free (the name of the group to search for is “LAMU GROUP”). Per the notices, it will be L$500 to join beginning Dec 1st, 2022.

UPDATE Dec. 3rd, 2022: I just noticed that ALB Dream Fashion has provided a sneak preview of some of the presents from their Advent calendar! As you can see, they will have an assortment of wonderful gifts this season, for both male and female avatars.

  • UPDATE Dec. 2nd, 2022: Both Vagrant (womenswear) and its sister store Zerkalo (home decor) have Advent calendars running from Dec. 1st to 24th (both require a free group join).
  • UPDATE Dec. 2nd, 2022: Salt and Pepper will be offering clothing gifts on December 1st, on the weekends, and on Christmas Eve, and gift cards on weekdays, which can be applied to any merchandise in the store. The Salt & Pepper group costs L$300 to join.
  • UPDATE Dec. 2nd, 2022: Glitzz has an Advent tree encircled with 24 teddy bear-adorned giftboxes, where you can pick up each day’s present for free (no group required). Previous days’ gifts can be purchased for L$25 each.
  • UPDATE Dec. 2nd, 2022: Celestina’s was slightly delayed in setting out their Advent calendar gifts, but the first few are now out, in a row along the front counter of the store. If you act quickly, you can pick up the gifts from both Dec. 1st and Dec. 2nd today, a strapless violet ballgown and a salmon shrug. The gifts for the next few days have previews on the boxes, and they look very nice! You must join the Celestina’s group for free to pick up these presents. If you miss a day, you can buy that day’s gift for L$35.
  • UPDATE Dec. 2nd, 2022: Seniha (womenswear) has an Advent calendar located outside their store. You need to join their group for free to obtain each day’s gift.
  • UPDATE Dec. 3rd, 2022: The advent calendar at ALTER is giving away lovely gifts of women’s clothing (you must join the ALTER group for free to get these gifts). If you miss a day, you can buy the previous days’ presents for L$55 each.
  • UPDATE Dec. 3rd, 2022: If you’re looking for something a little bit naughtier in your fashion, why not visit the Advent calendar at Erotik? Join their free store group to pick up each day’s gift. Previous days’ gifts can be purchased for L$35 each.

A final note: I regret to say that, unlike previous years, I will not be doing a daily round-up of Advent calendar gifts each day, either here on the blog or in the RyanSchultz.com Steals, Deals, and Freebies Second Life group (although I will still post some fabulous freebies and bargains to the latter, as I come across them). I’m sorry, but it’s just too much for me this year.

Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash

Happy freebie shopping!