Facebook Horizon Launches its Closed Alpha

Facebook is really moving forward on the Facebook Horizon social VR platform project, despite (or perhaps because of) the coronavirus pandemic. Yesterday, they launched their platform, still in closed, invitation-only alpha. More details are here.

Somebody posted the following image to the r/OculusQuest community on Reddit, and it has sparked quite the discussion:

(If you can’t figure out what this is, it is the program information page for the Facebook Horizon app, as seen within the Oculus Quest VR headset.)

Apparently, Facebook has been very choosy about who got a highly-prized invitation to the closed alpha. Even if you did receive the two emails that Facebook sent out, and signed the NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement), that was no guarantee that you would be accepted:

It’s still a lottery even after you sign a NDA. I noticed in one of the Facebook Horizon groups on Facebook. A guy mentioned after he returned his NDA Facebook rejected him. So it’s the luck of the draw.

One person wrote:

Ha, there were so many people the other day saying the development stopped or failed since it was removed from the Coming Soon section. Crazy folks. Facebook is not going to stop development and it’s going to kill when it does release, I can guarantee it.

To which I replied:

Well, there’s absolutely no guarantee that people will actually *use* it. Other social VR platforms have struggled mightily to attract users (e.g. High Fidelity, Sansar).

One problem is that, on Facebook Horizon, you won’t be able to be anybody but yourself, as I wrote about here.

Lots of people use social VR platforms and the older virtual worlds to be SOMEBODY ELSE, not have it tied to their real-life identities.

Interesting times…stay tuned for further news and developments!

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Nathie Looks at YARTVRA Apps: Nineteen Virtual Reality Apps for Remote Work and Education

Yes, I am still on my little one-man crusade to make the acronym YARTVRA a thing!

For those of you who are new to my blog, YARTVRA is short for Yet Another Remote Teamwork Virtual Reality App, that is, any social VR platform primarily intended for business use, to bring together people who may be working remotely into a shared virtual office space.

Nathaniël de Jong (a.k.a. Nathie) is a well-known Dutch YouTub influencer with over 558,000 subscribers, who often posts review videos of the latest and greatest VR hardware and software on his channel. A couple of days ago he decided to take a look at, yes, YARTVRA. Obviously, this market segment has received a lot of attention lately because of the global public health emergency caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which is probably why Nathie decided to make and release this video.

Nathie actually manages to squeeze no less than 19 different platforms into this 20-minute video, which unfortunately means that he only talks about each platform in a very brief and general sort of way for about minute, before he promptly moves on to the next one.

After a while, the relentless succession of all the look-alike business-oriented YARTVRAs, in particular, tends to overwhelm rather than inform. (ENGAGE still manages to stand out from the crowd in this video, though. And Oxford Medical Simulation definitely gives me some rather creepy uncanny valley vibes.)

Oxford Medical Simulation (image taken from their website)

Nathie appears to have taken as his starting point the recent Road to VR article, 34 VR Apps for Remote Work, Education, Training, Design Review, and More, and, much like the article, he breaks the various platforms down into four groups as follows (with links to their websites, courtesy of the credits in his YouTube video, and also links to where I have written about the products previously on this blog):

Team Collaboration and Presentation Platforms
– MeetinVR https://meetinvr.net/ (which I blogged about here)
– Glue https://glue.work/ (which I blogged about here)
– Connec2 https://connec2.nl/en/ (which is new to me)
– MeetingRoom https://meetingroom.io/ (which I blogged about here)
– Dream https://dreamos.com/ (which I blogged about here)
– VSpatial https://www.vspatial.com/ (which I blogged about here)

Social VR Platforms (those which Nathie thinks could, at least theoretically, be repurposed for business use)
– AltspaceVR https://altvr.com/ (blogged here)
– Bigscreen https://www.bigscreenvr.com/ (blogged here)
– Mozilla Hubs https://hubs.mozilla.com/ (blogged here)
– Facebook Horizon (currently in closed alpha testing, and a non-business-oriented product, so I’m rather mystified as to why Nathie chose to include it in his overview; blogged about here)
– VTime XR https://vtime.net/ (blogged about here)

Education and Training Platforms
– ENGAGE https://engagevr.io/ (which I blogged about here)
– Oxford Medical Simulation https://oxfordmedicalsimulation.com/ (which I blogged about here)
– Rumii https://www.dogheadsimulations.com/rumii (which I blogged about here)
– Acadicus https://acadicus.com/ (which I blogged about here)
– Wonda VR https://www.wondavr.com/ (which I blogged about here)

Design, Creation, and Prototyping Platforms
– Sketchbox https://www.sketchbox3d.com/creation (which I have not yet covered)
– The Wild https://thewild.com/ (blogged here)
– Softspace https://www.softspace.io/ (which is also new to me)

So between Nathie’s video and the Road to VR article, I now have a whole bunch of new YARTVRA to explore! Expect more blogposts soon, to add more products to my ever-growing list of social VR platforms and virtual worlds.

How VRChat, Somnium Space, and Other Social VR Platforms and Virtual Worlds Are Adjusting to the Coronavirus Pandemic

A number of social VR platforms and virtual worlds are responding to the continuing global public health crisis that is the coronavirus pandemic, offering their platforms as a way for people to safely gather while they are under quarantine, or practicing social distancing.

For example, Somnium Space has announced that they will host a daily meetup in-world at 3:00 pm PST/6:00 p.m. EST/23:00 CET:

Also, VRChat has just published a brand new guide, titled Stuck Inside? A Quick Guide for using VRChat to Stay Connected:

This very handy guide gives step-by-step instructions for those new to VRChat, and even gives a few suggestions of worlds to explore. (Remember, you do not need a VR headset to enjoy VRChat.)

And (of course), there are many other social VR platforms and virtual worlds that you can also use to gather with other people and make new friends online. Sansar is still up and running, and of course Second Life is still as popular as ever!

In fact, just an hour ago, Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg said:

We are seeing an increase in new registrations and returning residents during this outbreak. Please be kind and welcoming to those who may just need a friendly conversation to escape from this crazy world for a moment or more. If you have a friend or colleague who is looking for a safe place to socialize online during these tough times, we encourage you to help them discover how Second Life can enable them to feel less isolated by connecting them to your favorite communities or experiences.

My personal experience has been that spending time with others in a virtual world, or on a social VR platform, feels just the same to your brain as if you were having a conversation with a real-life friend in a real-life location. So please remember to turn to the metaverse if your social distancing strategy is leaving you feeling a little lonely and isolated during the coronavirus pandemic.

Come online. Reach out. We’re here.

Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

IEEE VR 2020 Conference: The Real-World Event in Atlanta Will Be Replaced By a 100% Virtual Event Because of the SARS-CoV-2 / COVID-19 Pandemic

Dozens of real-world conferences and events are being postponed or cancelled because of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, but the upcoming IEEE VR 2020 virtual reality conference, which was to have taken place March 22nd to 26th in Atlanta, Georgia, has done something unprecedented.

The announcement on the official conference website says:

VR 2020 – Venue Change due to COVID-19 Concerns

VR 2020 will now be an online event

Out of an abundance of caution surrounding COVID-19, the decision has been made to convert the in-person component of VR 2020 into an all-digital conference experience – VR 2020 will now be an online event. Therefore, VR 2020 will no longer take place in Atlanta, Georgia and will instead take place virtually. The conference dates remain the same – 22-26 March 2020.

We are excited to support many more attendees now that the conference is being held online, which will be provided free of charge for non-authors. More details will be available soon for online registration.

Please see my previous blogpost for information on how to register to attend this conference, for free.

A survey for those who have already registered for the in-person conference states:

IEEE VR 2020 is moving to be exclusively online, and to a very different financial model to support the publication, presentation, and sharing of your research in light of the venue cancellation. The general chairs and steering committee have chosen to use a simplified model of a flat-fee per published contribution ($450). This is to support maximum attendance at the online event, allowing non-author registration to remain free of charge.

The purpose of this form is to let us know how you want to allocate your registration payments to your associated published research contributions (e.g. poster, paper, demo abstract), and to determine any refund that you are due. Note that refunds are not guaranteed until all fees are fully covered for your contributions. Each published contribution requires a fee of $450. Please work with any of your coauthors to determine who is going to pay these fees.

By the way, the organizers are actively looking for volunteers to help pull this off, so if you’re interested, here’s the form to volunteer. I’ve already signed up, and I hope to see you online for the conference!