What is the Best Definition of Social VR?

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Image by PDPics on Pixabay

I think it’s rather funny that I’ve been writing a blog about social VR for almost a year now, and I haven’t bothered to define what I mean by “social VR” yet! So this blogpost is my effort to provide a good, comprehensive definition of social virtual reality.

I have hunted around on the internet for a good definition of social VR, and I haven’t found one yet that I’ve been happy with. The PC Magazine Encyclopedia defines it as:

social VR

(social Virtual Reality) Getting together in a simulated world using a virtual reality (VR) system and social VR app. Participants appear as avatars in environments that can be lifelike or fantasy worlds.

What I don’t like about this one is that it ignores platforms that are also accessible to non-VR users as well. There are quite a few of those!

I also don’t like that the definition is so broad that it could include VR games.

How about this as a working definition of social VR?

Social VR (social virtual reality) is a 3-dimensional computer-generated space which must support visitors in VR headsets (and may also support non-VR users). The user is represented by an avatar. The purpose of the platform must be open-ended, and it must support communication between users sharing the same space. In almost all social VR platforms, the user is free to move around the space, and the content of the platform is completely or partially user-generated.

I think that is broad enough to cover most of the platforms that call themselves “social VR”. It excludes those virtual worlds which do not support users in VR headsets, such as Second Life. It also excludes VR games such as Beat Saber and Superhot, since they are not open-ended experiences where you can do whatever you want.

There are very few social VR spaces which do not allow you to move around (the only two I can think of are Facebook Spaces and vTime). Also, there are very few social VR apps which do not allow you to create and share content (vTime is again an example).

So what do you think of my definition? Feel free to let me know in the comments, thanks!

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Engage: A Brief Introduction

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A Lecture Theatre in Engage

Andrew (the producer for our upcoming show Metaverse Newscast) told me about Engage, which is a free social VR platform for educational purposes:

The Engage platform is a free to use social education and presentation platform. Engage allows you to hold meetings, classes, private lessons and presentations with people from all around the world in a safe virtual multi user environment.

You can record and create your own lessons and presentations inside Engage using our recorder feature and you can add in immersive elements such as virtual objects for people to interact with or visit virtual environments such as the surface of Mars.

Why teach marine biology in a class room when you can teach it on the sea bed. Why travel thousands of miles for a single meeting when you can do it virtually. We are excited to see how people like you will utilize the Engage platform to educate the world.

When using the Engage platform you are given access to the Engage presenter tablet. You use this virtual tablet in the same way as a real life ipad or tablet.

On the tablet, you are given recording options. When you select record, the Engage platform will record everything you say and do within the virtual space along with any presentations, virtual objects and media you share in the virtual room. This recording is saved onto your hard drive for you to review.

If you are happy with your performance you can share it privately with other users in your virtual room or choose to upload it to the Engage platform for the public to view at their own convenience.

There are several multimedia sample lessons, including a lesson on the Mars Curiousity Rover. You are able to walk around a model of the rover on the surface of Mars, and click on various features for an explanation of what they do:

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Here’s a short promotional YouTube video about the Engage platform:

Engage is currently available through the Early Access Program on Steam. I’m really impressed by what I saw in Engage, and it will be an interesting social VR platform to watch as it develops.

A Detailed List of VR Cryptocurrencies

VRCryptocurrencies 4 July 2018.pngThere’s a new website called VRCryptocurrencies.com, which has published a list of VR cryptocurrencies. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll see a lot of familiar names on that list:

Plus a whole bunch of new ones I had never heard of before:

Now, some of these do not appear to be social VR apps, so I won’t bother covering them on this blog. But there are a few interesting ones that merit further investigation!

The VRCurrencies website has a blog as well, which looks like it could be a good place to keep abreast of news regarding virtual reality-based cryptocurrency/blockchain projects in future. As I have stated before, I am extremely wary of crypto/blockchain VR projects at this point:

…I refuse to put one cent of my own money into any cryptocurrency at this point, and I advise anybody who wishes to do so, to do every single scrap of their homework before investing in any product or service. It’s simply too risky.

The actions of a few bad apples (both individuals and companies) are threatening to spoil the entire barrel. Also, greed is driving investors into ill-informed and risky speculation, and currently, there is a crypto feeding frenzy that is starting to remind me of Shark Week. I fear that this is a financial bubble that will hurt many investors when it implodes. Caveat emptor!

Why I Am Excited About Virtual Universe

Yeah, can you tell I am excited about the upcoming beta launch of Virtual Universe?

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(Image courtesy of the Distracted Boyfriend Meme Generator)

And yes, I am part of the Virtual Universe (VU) Initial Coin Offering Partner Program (I’m currently number two on their VU Token Leaderboard). The main reason I am participating in that program is because it’s the only legal way I can earn VU tokens before the social VR space launches later this summer. Here’s a 10-minute video which explains the partner program in a lot more detail:


I think that Linden Lab should consider such a program to pay people in Sansar dollars for promoting Sansar on their various social media.

But people have been asking me, why am I excited about VU as opposed to other blockchain-based virtual world platforms?

Well, if you haven’t seen my recent half-hour guided tour of VU, I suggest you set aside some time to watch the whole video. I have been blistering in my criticism of other blockchain-based virtual world projects which are more hype than substance (Decentraland is a classic example) because they don’t have anything that you can actually visit yet. But in Virtual Universe, they not only have a place you can visit (currently, only by appointment), but they also have a very easy in-world content creation tool that is actually fun to use! And I was impressed by the many little added touches such as AI-controlled animals like lizards, rabbits, and bluebirds, even individual insects!

Now, Virtual Universe still has a lot of work left to do. Any virtual world project is a mammoth undertaking, and they still have to polish the user avatars (the current ones are merely placeholders, from what I understand) and other features. But it’s a very promising, and very impressive, start.

So yes, I am eagerly awaiting the launch of the beta version of Virtual Universe, even though Sansar is still my first love (and the reason I created this blog in the first place).

Building a Portal Between the Real World and Social VR Spaces: SVVR’s MULTIVERSE Initiative

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A portal between High Fidelity and a real-world event (picture from the Road to VR website)

Kent Bye, in a news report on the Road to VR website, writes about the fifth anniversary of the immensely influential organization known as the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality (SVVR) meetup:

Today is the five-year anniversary for Silicon Valley Virtual Reality meetup, and founder Karl Krantz is announcing a couple of new initiatives as SVVR reorganizes itself as a public-benefit corporation. They’re going to be formally announcing their MULTIVERSE initiative that is going to be bringing Reality Portals to VR events, which will allow people virtually attend VR events put on by SVVR and others through social VR experiences like High Fidelity. They’ve created a screen that can be placed at VR events that provides a low-latency window into a VR world (and vice versa), allowing for serendipitous interactions between co-located events and the virtual attendees.

Among the first participants in this initiative will be High Fidelity, according to this press release:

Celebrating five years connecting the global VR community, SVVR is proud to announce MULTIVERSE — an open design initiative powering real-time, live event communications between real locations and virtual worlds.

Reality Portal is the first project to be launched as part of the MULTIVERSE initiative. It offers ‘natural interaction telepresence’ between people in the real world and people in remote locations, represented as avatars. Serving as a two-way window, Reality Portal enables real-time communications between real world and remote attendees and speakers at live events worldwide.

“Geography, platform fragmentation and exclusivity creates communities in isolation,” says Karl Krantz, SVVR partner and founder. “We’re offering the community an open bridge for overcoming location, closed ecosystems and toxic echo chambers. MULTIVERSE is our vision for fostering an open, sustainable and healthy future for global communications.”

Launching in late 2018, the open-source MULTIVERSE Development Kit will provide creators with everything they need to connect real locations and virtual worlds through pop-up Reality Portals and merged world spaces of their own. High Fidelity, Unity and WebVR/XR SDK support is in active development. MULTIVERSE technologies are currently utilized during live, SVVR-powered events.

“The distance between the real world and virtual reality is getting smaller every day,” said Philip Rosedale, founder and CEO of High Fidelity. “Closing that distance and making it easy for people to interact in-person and with their avatar representations interchangeably, no matter the VR platform, their equipment or location unlocks the true potential of virtual reality. Projects like MULTIVERSE, Reality Portal and the VRBA are all exciting steps along that path.”

In addition, SVVR is joining the Virtual Reality Blockchain Alliance, cofounded by open source VR platform High Fidelity. As a member of the Virtual Reality Blockchain Alliance, SVVR will work closely with the community and VRBA members to connect open metaverse platforms and services to people around the globe. Current VRBA members include High Fidelity, JanusVR and Somnium Space.

I wrote about the Virtual Reality Blockchain Alliance a while ago on this blog.

It would be fun to be able to virtually attend real-world events via this sort of portal.

Universal Translators in Virtual Worlds and Social VR Spaces

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Image by Tumisu on Pixabay

你好! What language has the most irregular verbs?

I’ll answer that at the end of this blogpost, but first I wanted to talk a bit about languages and virtual worlds.

Virtual worlds such as Second Life attract people from all around the world, who might not speak the same language as each other. (The Second Life website itself is available in English, Japanese, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Turkish and Russian.) Automatic translator software (such as this popular item on the SL Marketplace, which works with Google Translate) is often used to bridge the language gap between users chatting in Second Life.

But text chat is not used as often as voice chat in the newer social VR spaces such as Sansar and High Fidelity. Waverly Labs has already created an earpiece called the Pilot, which fits inside your ear to translate foreign languages in real-time, much like the babel fish in Douglas Adams’ science fiction novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In my opinion, it’s really only a matter of time until this sort of technology makes it into social VR platforms.

(A related challenge is to provide voice-to-text conversion so that, for instance, a deaf person can participate in social VR discussions. Thankfully, this is already commonly available using software such as the Dragon line of products. It just needs to be integrated with the various client software used to navigate the newer metaverse products.)

Seamless communication between people of all languages may be coming sooner than you think! 再见!


And now the answer to the question I posted at the start of this blogpost: according to this discussion thread on the WordReference forums, the language with the highest number of irregular verbs is Latin—or perhaps Portuguese.

Pluto VR: A Social VR Dashboard App

Pluto VR is a software product by a small Seattle-based company that has a distinctly different take on social VR: it’s a dashboard app that you load while you are running another SteamVR program. Last year they raised almost $14 million in funding. Here’s a picture from that report, showing three avatars from the perspective of one who is in Paris within the Google Earth VR software program.

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Now, there are still some limitations. You can see other people and talk to them while you’re in a SteamVR program, but they can’t see what you’re seeing (in other words, the other two avatars can’t see Paris). You can only see the head and the hands of the other avatars, and you can talk to each other.

Here’s a few questions and answers from their FAQ:

How do I use Pluto once it’s running?

Pluto runs as a dashboard app, which means if you open the SteamVR dashboard you will see our icon along the bottom of the SteamVR dashboard.  Select it and you can interact with Pluto to call your contacts. If you receive a call the dashboard will open automatically, and show you Pluto’s UI.

Can people I’m talking to see what I see?

Not yet. Several organizations including Pluto are actively developing technology to let people see more of what each other is doing. In the meantime, Pluto gives you the ability to see and hear each other no matter what app each of you are currently using.

What can we see about each other?

You are able to see the heads and hands of those you are talking to (if their motion controllers are on). We currently limit what we show based on the tracking information that most people have.

Here’s a YouTube video that probably describes Pluto VR better than I could. Notice that, at the beginning of the video, one avatar is in Google Earth and the other is in Tilt Brush, but each cannot see what the other sees. (One avatar did send the other one a screenshot of their Tilt Brush creation, though.) At the end of the video, there is a sort of weird mashup of Pluto VR and Rec Room, where it wasn’t clear to me whether or not each avatar could actually see what the others were doing. (And, if you’re all playing together in Rec Room, why would you use Pluto VR anyway?)

This is an intriguing concept, but I’m still not sold on how practical or useful this would be. Pluto VR is currently available through the Early Access Software program on Steam, and they are actively looking for alpha testers with VR headsets. So if you’re interested, download the software and give it a try.

Question: What happens when you use Pluto VR as a social VR overlay in a social VR app on SteamVR, like VRChat? Would it be like when John Malkovich enters the portal into his own head in the movie Being John Malkovich? 😉