There’s a brand-new virtual world/social VR platform I want to tell you about! It’s called Resonite, and it is the product of a hard-working and super-talented team of software developers at Yellow Dog Man Studios.
Resonite runs in both standard and virtual reality modes. While it does not require a VR headset to enjoy, it certainly is a lot more fun if you have one! Any virtual reality headset supported by the Steam ecosystem will work (I use a Valve Index at home, and an HTC Vive Pro 2 at work).
Last weekend, I downloaded and installed the software at home to use with my Valve Index, and I was quite impressed with the new user orientation! It reminds me a lot of the former Sansar Social Hub with its airy, futuristic vibes.
Also, all new users receive a beautiful new cloud home, as their personal home base in Resonite, to decorate (or add on to!) as they wish. Oh, and I forgot to mention, you can also easily transfer over your avatar and any other personal files (and homes/worlds) from Neos, if you wish.
Here’s a recently-released mini-trailer to give you a small taste of this product:
And because I expect that I will be writing a lotabout Resonite from today forward, I have set up a new blogpost category called Resonite, which I will be attaching to this blog post, and to any future ones! Stay tuned for future news and events!
UPDATE Sept. 28th, 2023: If you’re looking for a good, concise summary of the Meta Connect 2023 event, TechCrunch has you covered.
The Meta Connect 2023 virtual event will start on September 27th, 2023 (today) at 10:00 a.m. PST / noon CST / 1:00 p.m. EST / 5:00 p.m. BST. Meta (the company formerly known as Facebook) will stream the event live on its website. You can also watch the stream on YouTube, Twitch, and via the official Meta page on Facebook. The event will start with a keynote by Meta’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, who is expected to officially launch the Meta Quest 3 headset, talk about its features, and give an update on where the company is planning to go with its virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality, and extended reality (VR/AR/MR/XR) initiatives over the next few years.
For a while it dominated tech news. A virtual reality world that would be so immersive, so engaging, that we would want to spend part of our lives in it.
Driving the metaverse narrative was Mark Zuckerberg.
The tech billionaire was so committed that in October 2021 he changed Facebook’s name to Meta…
No one could accuse him of a lack of ambition.
But almost two years on, Zuckerberg’s vision of the metaverse is in trouble.
In April, he was forced to deny that he is now jettisoning the idea.
“A narrative has developed that we’re somehow moving away from focusing on the metaverse,” he told investors in April. “So I just want to say upfront that that’s not accurate.”
On Wednesday, the company holds its annual VR event called Meta Connect.
It’s a chance, perhaps, for Zuckerberg to again explain his reasoning for taking an extremely profitable social media company and diverting its focus to an extremely unprofitable VR venture.
How unprofitable? Well, the most recent figures from Meta are eye-watering.
Reality Labs – which as the name suggests is Meta’s virtual and augmented reality branch – has lost a staggering $21 billion since last year.
Part of the losses reflect long-term investment. Meta wasn’t expecting short-term returns. But the worrying fact for the company is that, so far, there is very little evidence that this enormous punt will work.
I fully expect an announcement that Horizon Worlds, Meta’s social VR platform, will be rolling out to non-VR/flatscreen web and mobile users. Using a Meta Quest 2 test unit purchased for the virtual reality lab project I am involved with at the University of Manitoba, I have paid several short visits to Horizon Worlds, and I am, to put it politely, not a fan. Horizon Worlds is something even worse than boring—it’s soulless. It looks and feels like it was put together by a bureaucratic committee of engineers that was given a task to do, in order to report back to the executives that they did something, but the builders had no real understanding, appreciation, or love of what social VR is and can be. To be frank, I don’t believe that expanding Horizon Worlds access to web and mobile users is gonna bring a hell of a lot more users to the platform. In my opinion, it’s a dog that needs to be taken out back and shot, to be put out of its misery. 🐕
Mark Zuckerberg: Hey, look! Our avatars have legs!
Second Life: Isn’t that just adorable. Meanwhile, our avatars can look like this…:
Second Life: …and your avatars look like this:
(And yes, I know, comparing a social VR platform like Horizon Worlds to a flatscreen virtual world like Second Life, which also has a 20-year head start, is not fair. But honestly, Meta’s avatars have a long, long way to go, in my opinion. Obligatory editorial.)
UPDATE 11:28 a.m.: I’m signed in to a livestream from one of the virtual reality YouTubers I follow, Virtual Reality Oasis, which apparently is starting half an hour before the actual Meta Connect event with a bit of a pre-show, perhaps. I will probably stay on this channel, for the additional commentary by this YouTuber (there’s also a very active comment stream to follow), but I might switch to another source later on. I will be making full use of two monitors here at work on my desktop PC—one for watching the livestream, and the second for blogging on the fly!
UPDATE 11:40 a.m.: Mike’s Virtual Reality Oasis livestream has started; apparently, he is located in a “side office” near backstage or behind the scenes at the Menlo Park auditorium, where the Meta Connect event is taking place (I think I got that part right!). He and another VR expert (whose name I unfortunately didn’t catch) will be providing some colour commentary and even taking questions from the over 3,700 livestream viewers. (Unfortunately, this livestream video was marked private after the event, so I cannot link to it.)
UPDATE noon: Meta has just announced a 30-minute delay to the start of the event, which is rather disappointing. Apparently, instead of an indoor stage, this event will be taking place on an outdoor stage in Menlo Park. I will be able to view and post blog updates until around 2:00 p.m. my time (Central Standard Time), so I am only going to be able to comment on the first hour-and-a-half of Meta Connect.
UPDATE 12:18 p.m.: I’ve switched to a different livestream, this one by IGN, with almost 7,000 people watching. Virtual Reality Oasis was reporting problems with both video and audio from the Meta Connect livestream, so I’ll be switching back and forth. (I could also watch it via Facebook, but I’ll be damned if I have to set up a Facebook account just to do that! Back in 2018, I kicked Facebook to the curb, and I have zero intention of returning to its surveillance-capitalism embrace, with the sole exception of a Meta account I set up for the test unit Meta Quest 2 headset I got.)
UPDATE 12:31 p.m.: The show has finally started!
Mark starts off with the usual piffle about “the power of human connection”. 🙄 He’s talking about being in a room with a mixture of real-life humans and holographic humans and embodied AI tools. Mixed reality, smart glasses, and AI are key to what Mark calls the metaverse.
Mark introduces the Quest 3, which he calls “the first mainstream mixed-reality headset” to applause from the crowd, followed by a brief presentation of various examples of this mixed reality in a number of games and apps. Xbox cloud gaming is coming to the Quest later this year.
Augments are persistent, spatially-anchored digital objects (like digital portals and photo albums you can hang on your walls). You can double-tap on your headset to return instantly to the real world.
Now he’s talking about content, including new titles. Meta Quest 3 has twice the graphics performance of any previous headset and is 40% thinner than the Quest 2. Roblox is launching for the Quest, which is going to bring a lot of younger users to the headset!
Mark teased new Horizon content, saying that the visuals are improving. He also talked about tools for business, citing productivity and work apps. Coming soon is something called Meta Quest for Business, with integrations with apps like Office 365 (something that was previously promised). Lack of details is very frustrating!
Meta Quest 3 is shipping October 10th for US$499 (Mark slipped up and said “August 10th” LOL!).
UPDATE 12:47 p.m.: Now the talk switches to artificial intelligence, which is hardly surprising since that is where all the hype went after the previous metaverse hype cycle (which included Mark renaming his company from Facebook to Meta!). A new tool, called Emu (Expressive Media Universe) is an image-generation tool similar to DALL-E 2. You will be able to use AI chat to create stickers (wow, groundbreaking!🙄). AI editing tools will be added to Instagram next month, with a cute demo of Mark applying various textures to his dog, Beast.
(Right now Mark is just spouting AI word salad, and my eyes are rolling so hard they disappeared into my skull.)
Meta AI: your basic assistant you can talk to like a person, help you answer basic questions and requests. Based on Llama 2 large language model, through a partnership with Microsoft and Bing search. Emu: is built into Meta AI with the “/imagine” prompt built into various apps.
Max the sous-chef AI who will help you come up with a recipe, etc. Lily, the personal editor AI that can help you brainstorm and improve your writing. Lorena the travel expert AI to recommend a good national park to take the kids to. These are three of the many different types of AI chatbots Meta is dreaming up to answer queries and entertain you. Meta actually appears to have hired actors and celebrities to play these roles! (Honestly, this is kinda creeping me out.)
Oh, sweet minty Jesus, Snoop Dogg has been cast as your Dungeons & Dragons dungeonmaster. Nope, I’m out…NOBODY WANTS THIS, MARK. I never want to see that cursed image again!!! Who the fuck thought this was a great idea? Mark brought his keynote to a screeching halt as he fumbled with his cellphone to “chat” with Snoop Dogg (who I’m sure is being paid a pretty penny to give up his likeness for this ridiculous idea).
Among the many other “experts” who signed on to be the face of a Meta AI chatbot is Paris Hilton, who role-plays your “detective” (I kid you not):
Here comes the part where Mark pays lip service to safety and security, since there are some serious user privacy concerns associated with all this new, AI-powered tech (something which Meta has notably been egregious about in the past). “I’m really optimistic about this,” says Mark, and once again, my eyes rolled so far back I was staring at my brain. Yeah, sure, Mark, I really want to have my every conversation with Detective Paris Hilton strip-mined as yet another opportunity to provide data to sell to advertisers for the next Cambridge Analytica scandal. 🙄🙄🙄🙄🙄 As a commenter stated on the r/technews subreddit (source):
Does anyone else think AI chatbots are just another way to harvest data about people by engaging them in conversation?
Now Mark turns to the next generation of Ray-Ban smart glasses, which I must confess look a lot like regular glasses with slightly thicker arms. These new glasses will include Meta AI, so you can bring Snoop Dogg or Paris Hilton wherever you go (shudder). Next year, a software update will make these glasses multi-modal, so you can read signs in foreign languages, for example, which sounds kinda cool.
A brief video was shown where you will be able to livestream what you see from your own glasses to others, using as an example a racecar driver who is presenting what he sees to other viewers watching on their cellphones. These new glasses are available starting Oct. 17th for US$299.
UPDATE 1:16 p.m.: Mark has wrapped up his keynote, and is passing the torch to Meta’s Chief Technology Officer, Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, who in previous years has not shied away from speaking his mind and even criticizing what he sees as some missteps the company has made. He’s talking about the ability to double-tap on the side of your Meta Quest 3 to switch seamlessly between mixed-reality and pass-through of the real world.
You will no longer have to manually set up your play boundary in the Meta Quest 3, which will automatically map the room you are in, and the objects that are in that room, when you put the headset on:
(There are some livestream skips happening now, so I might miss something.)
Okay, I am taking a break, but if I have time later on today, I will add more.
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, in unveiling the new AI chatbots, said the company wanted to create AIs that have distinct personalities, opinions and interests. “This isn’t just gonna be about answering queries,” he said. “This is about entertainment and about helping you do things to connect with the people around you.”
For now, the celebrity chatbots respond in text — their avatars don’t actually speak their responses. Zuckerberg said voice for the AIs will come probably early next year.
UPDATE 5:44 p.m.: Wow, I thought I had been sarcastic in my remarks about these AI chatbots, but the people over at the celebrity subreddit r/Fauxmoi, are savage! Here’s just a sample of their comments (source):
Ah yes, all the people you’d regret starting a conversation with.
Lmao I hate this.
Also: “Kendall Jenner as Billie, no-BS, ride-or-die companion” 😂 So funny, coming from someone with even less personality than a robot.
It’s giving Black Mirror.
Sounds horrifying. Hopefully it flops hard enough to discourage more companies from doing shit like this.
What the hell is this? Like what is it supposed to be/do? Paris Hilton is ‘Amber’ who is your detective friend to help you solve whodunnits. So they’ve taken real people and turned them into avatars but then also they aren’t really THAT person, they’re someone else brand new who has a completely different personality? What’s even the point? Please can someone explain??
Meta is embarrassingly out of touch with the world, in a very “hello, fellow teenagers!” kind of way…
So, as you can clearly see, I’m not the only one who thinks this is just weird. I’m left wondering how much of that $21 billion Meta Reality Labs spent this past year went to pay for all these celebrities to agree to be the faces of their chatbots. And I wonder how they’re going to feel when (as is almost inevitable) their chatbot starts to act up and spit out unacceptable or incorrect responses to user questions? What will Paris Hilton do when the chatbot who wears her face goes rogue? I’m quite sure she did not think through all the potential implications of signing away her likeness on the contract Meta dangled in front of her! It really is very Black Mirror.
UPDATE Sept. 28th, 2023 2:54 p.m.: I have gotten busy with my full-time paying job as a university librarian, so I haven’t had much of a chance to watch the rest of yesterday’s virtual event. Once I do, I expect that I will have more to comment on!
Filippa and Lina are two Master’s students in the International Marketing and Brand Management program at Lund University in Lund, Sweden. They are researching how social VR users express identity in virtual environments, and they wish to conduct interviews. Filippa told me via Discord chat:
We are hoping to learn more about how social VR users express identity in virtual environments because we think that it is the future, and we have noticed more and more physical retailers that are showing an interest in selling virtual goods. Our field is called consumer culture theory, so we believe that there is a link between our possessions and identities.
Once again this March, the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education conference (VWBPE for short) will take place in Second Life, running from March 23rd to 25th, 2023. According to the EventBrite description of the conference:
This year, we celebrate Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education’s 16th Annual International Conference on Education in Virtual and Augmented Reality. The main conference takes place March 23-25, 2023, with immersive experiences happening two weeks before and after the main event.
Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education is a global grassroots community event focusing on education in immersive virtual environments. This open conference is organized by the education community to provide an opportunity to showcase the learning that takes place using virtual and augmented environments. Educators and content creators alike are encouraged to attend, present, and take part in this discussion of collaborative deeper learning and co-presence in virtual worlds and games.
To the best ability possible, VWBPE provides educational and networking opportunities that are relevant to educational curriculum development utilizing virtual environments and “best practices”.
helping to build community through extension of learning best practices to practical application of those ideas and techniques;
providing networking opportunities for educators and the communities that help support education; and
providing access to current innovations, trends, ideas, case studies, and other best practices for educators and the communities that help support education.
Over 1,200 people from 30 countries attended our last conference in March 2022. In just the past several years, over 200 hours of video footage has been captured and has been made available free to the academic community in addition to other video broadcasts, with thousands of views.
Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education is a meaningful way for presenters to share their research and experience about the rich learning systems in virtual worlds and games. This free online conference is produced entirely by volunteers.
This open conference is organized by the Second Life community to provide an opportunity to showcase the learning that takes place using virtual worlds. Everyone is encouraged to present, attend and take part in this discussion of collaborative deeper learning and co-presence in virtual worlds and games…
Over 2,000 attendees representing 90 countries participate in 150-200 online presentations including theoretical research, application of best practices, virtual world tours, hands-on workshops, discussion panels, machinima presentations, and poster exhibits. You do not have to be a formal academic to participate.
While the VWBPE conference proceedings are apparently published as the Journal of Virtual Studies published by Rockcliffe University Consortium, my Firefox web browser threw up a security warning when I tried to access the journal’s webpage:
Indeed, Rockcliffe University Consortium (a gold-level sponsor of VWBPE, and a primary organizer of the conference) is a “university” which, as far as I am aware, exists only within the virtual world of Second Life, as opposed to an accredited, real-world university. According to their website:
Rockcliffe is a registered non-profit C-Corp in the United States, however we are not a 501(c)3. Structurally, we are organized along the lines of a B-Corp. The organization is made up completely of volunteers. The entire organization is a collection of global SOHO [small office/home office] locations tied together through a common technical infrastructure that serves as a proxy for a brick and mortar location. While the majority of our volunteers are from the United States, Rockcliffe also [has] volunteers based in Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia.
While those who seek the reassurance of academic rigour and scholarly structure might turn up their noses at a self-proclaimed Second Life “university” with a glitchy journal website, I would remind you that the current organization also embraces those virtual world educators and researchers who might otherwise feel excluded from a professional, academic conference. And I can attest that I have attended some truly excellent presentations at previous VWBPE conferences over the past 15 years, such as this 2021 talk by Dr. Marie Vans about social VR.