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an engaged, articulate, and informed speaker, and if you missed this event, I will update this blogpost with links to an archived version which you can listen to via Twitter Spaces, Clubhouse, and Callin.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.

Editorial: The Competition for Social Audio Is Getting Interesting

Twitter versus Clubhouse: who will win the battle for social audio?

I’ve written twice this week about Clubhouse (here and here), and I remain endlessly fascinated about social audio apps in general, and the two leading apps, Twitter Spaces and Clubhouse, in particular. It would appear that the competition between Twitter and Clubhouse is beginning to heat up, with Twitter working aggressively to add users and features while Clubhouse seems to be experiencing some growing pains. While Clubhouse has the early lead, Twitter is making slow but steady progress, particularly in support for Android users.

Late this afternoon, I listened to a Twitter Spaces room where the future of Twitter was discussed at length, and it is clear that the new push is towards attracting content creators and providing ways to effectively monetize the platform for them. Twitter product lead Kayvon Beykpour tweeted today about just how far Twitter Spaces has come in only four months:

Anyone of Twitter with more than 600 followers can now host their own Twitter Spaces room, which anybody on Twitter can listen to and join in, without any limit on how many people can be in the room (Clubhouse rooms are capped at 5,000 people). Also, Twtter Spaces supports both iOS and Android devices, although Clubhouse is expected to roll out Android support sometime in the next month.

Also, Clubhouse does not have a direct message ability, relying instead on people putting Instagram and Twitter links in their bios so that people can contact each other. Of course, Twitter already has direct messaging built into the platform (although celebrities and other people can choose to turn that feature off).

All this means is that social audio is still anybody’s game to win. While Twitter Spaces is lagging behind Clubhouse in terms of overall features, Twitter has something that Clubhouse does not: a much larger potential audience (192 million users). In other words, once Kayvon and his team work out some of the bugs and add more features, they could potentially have a hit on their hands. And Facebook, with 2.8 billion user accounts and deep pockets full of profits from advertising, has the potential to come in and steamroller over both Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces.

(By the way, the Twitter Spaces room I was in crashed abruptly…it would appear that there are still quite a few bugs to iron out!)

Stay tuned; things are about to get really interesting!

Andrew “Boz” Bosworth and John Carmack Have a Discussion About Next-Generation Virtual Reality

When John Carmack and Andrew “Boz” Bosworth have a conversation, people tend to listen. Andrew is vice president in charge of augmented and virtual reality at Facebook, and of course John is the millionaire Chief Technical Officer of Oculus, who is currently working away on an Artificial General Intelligence project.

The two recently held a half-hour conversation on Twitter Spaces (Twitter’s version of the hot new drop-in audio app Clubhouse), which offered a fascinating glimpse into the heads of two key people who are driving Facebook’s move into virtual reality.

Right now [VR is] still largely an early adopters’ toy where a lot of people that have VR already have everything else, and we’re just adding some new spice, but we need to be a displacement device where we need to be something that somebody hard up for money decides “I’m going to buy a VR headset instead of a Chromebook or instead of a tablet.” And we need to do everything that those devices do. You know, we need to have similar app libraries. We need to be just as effective with keyboard and mouse. We need it to be something that you could put on your head and do the work that you need to do during a normal day.

—John Carmack

Anybody who uses what Philip Rosedale has pejoratively called a “marimba keyboard” (i.e. where you use a mallet-like device to awkwardly type on a virtual keyboard), can immediately relate to what John says here. Despite the many technical advances of the past five years, we are still not anywhere near the ease of use that is required for people to actually opt for a VR headset instead of a tablet!

Here’s the whole half-hour discussion, which I can highly recommend:

UPDATED! Comparing Clubhouse with Twitter Spaces: A Chart Comparing the Features of the Two Leading Drop-In Audio Chat Social Apps for Mobile Devices

Clubhouse (photo by Erin Kwon on Unsplash)
Twitter Spaces (source)

I don’t know what lucky star I was born under, but as of very early this morning, Thursday, March 4th, 2021, I am now part of not one but two beta tests of competing drop-in audio chat apps: Clubhouse (which I have been on for a little over a week), and the newer Twitter Spaces, which I was invited to join today, after participating in my first-ever Twitter Spaces group chat that lasted into the wee hours of this morning!

This morning, I tried out my new abilities, setting up Twitter Spaces chatrooms to talk with various people one-on-one, like Michael Zhang, Kent Bye, Will Burns and Andy Fidel. With those chats, and last night’s group chat, under my belt, I now feel confident enough to compile a comparison chart between the two platforms.

Please note that the situation is evolving rapidly (for example, the press have reported that Twitter Spaces works for Android, but in trying to connect with an Android user, she reported that she received a message that it’s not available yet for Android). So this chart will age rapidly, and I will NOT be keeping it up to date; consider it just a current snapshot of the race between the two social audio companies! (And yes, you can bet your bottom dollar that Facebook is feverishly working on a competing drop-in audio chat app to dominate the nascent marketplace*.)

(I apologize for the somewhat messy dimensions of this table; I was unable to find an easy way to make the columns all the same size! I need to brush up on my HTML/CSS.)

Features/DetailsCLUBHOUSETWITTER SPACES
CompanyAlpha Exploration Company, founded in April 2020 by Rohan Seth and Paul Davison, funded by venture capitalist Andreessen HorowitzTwitter, founded by by Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams in March 2006
Current Number of Users10 million users (and growing quickly!)Unknown number of users since its private beta launch in late December 2020, mostly iOS (Twitter itself has 330 million users)
Supported Mobile DevicesiOS onlyiOS only; the press has already reported that Android support has just launched, but I have had a least one report of an Android user who could not get in, and one report of someone who could, so…
Current Growth ModelInvite only (You have to have someone text you an invitation)Invite only (Twitter seems to be selecting the longest-standing accounts first)
Number of Rooms You Can CreateAs many as you like (three kinds: open, public/followers only, or closed/invite only)It appears to be just one, reusable room linked to your Twitter profile (you can retitle the room every time you spin it up, though)
Number of Clubs (Recurring Rooms) You Can CreateYou need to ask Clubhouse to set up a club for you, but soon they plan to launch the ability for you to create your own clubs There does not appear to be a regularly-scheduled room or club feature yet (but it’s early days!)
Number of People You Can Invite into a RoomSeems to have no upper limit (the Elon Musk interview room had over 6,000 people)UPDATE: It would appear you can invite as many Twitter users and lists of users as you like (thanks, Navah!). You can also send out a general invitation tweet to your Twitter feed, or generate a special link to post to places like Discord (I tested both and they do indeed work).
EmojisEncouraged in user profiles and searchable, but when you are in a room, and not speaking, you are limited to clicking your microphone button repeatedly (similar to clapping), or changing your user icon and PTR (Pull To Refresh) the screen.Yes (but the selection is limited to only 5 emojis). Of course, you can also use emojis in your Twitter profiles and tweets!
Direct MessagingNo (you must use Instagram or Twitter to send direct messages, although you could create a private room for just the two of you to chat)Yes, built-in from the start
CostThe platform is free to all users and doesn’t yet offer any kind of premium plan or method of charging users, nor is it ad-supported. They plan to monetize by adding ways for users to pay other users, which will provide an opportunity for Clubhouse to take a cut for its services.Free (Twitter makes its money through advertising and data licensing)

And if you want to ping me on either Clubhouse or Twitter, my handle on both is the same: @quiplash. Quiplash is short for “quipster whiplash”, because I am very well known for my snappy comebacks 😉 (and no, I am not named after the Quiplash game). Hit me up if you want to experience Twitter Spaces and perhaps we can schedule a group discussion, and I’d like to extend the same invitation for Clubhouse (if you can get an invite; I might be able to you out there, too, if you join my Patreon).

Feel free to give me a shout! (photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash)

UPDATE 4:13 p.m.: Well, I have been testing out Twitter Spaces with small groups of three to five people; thanks to Navah Berg and my European social VR blogger counterpart Niclas Johansson, and to Thomas for helping me test! (I’m sorry but given the problems I report below, I was unable to add Thomas as a friend, and I didn’t catch his last name.)

Unfortunately, this afternoon, the Twitter Spaces app performed horribly, muting my microphone at one point and forcing me to use the very limited set of 5 emojis to express myself (like some sad mime!), and at another point, slowing down to the point that it took me several painful minutes to search for a username, waiting 5-10 seconds for each and every key press to register, and then, not once but twice in a row, actually crashing me out of the app and causing my iPhone to lock up completely! I haven’t had that happen in a while… So, after four tries, I gave up.

So I would very strongly recommend that you wait a day or two before trying Twitter Spaces, even if you have been invited to participate as a host today. It seems to be buckling under the load, and in my opinion, it’s just not ready for prime time. Very buggy, very beta. (Sorry, Twitter!)

Navah, who says she had been on Spaces for a couple of weeks now and that she prefers Twitter Spaces to Clubhouse, told us that her pervious days’ performance was much better, and she suggested that all these serious problems are happening to us today because Twitter launched Spaces for Android users today, and they are getting hammered with Android device traffic (which makes sense to me).

UPDATE 8:31 p.m.: Well, things are looking up! Navah is hosting a Twitter Space this evening with approximately 55 people present, with only occasional audio issues. One of the features I do quite like about Twitter Spaces is the ability for someone either (host or speaker) to share a tweet with everybody in the room. Somebody posted a copy of my tweet of this blogpost to tonight’s meeting!

UPDATE 8:43 p.m.: Aaaand the room crashed again! Back to the drawing board, Twitter…

*UPDATE March 6th, 2021: Well, surprise, surprise… word has leaked out that Facebook is working on adding audio chat rooms to Instagram:

Here’s a link to the tweet and resulting comment thread if you’re interested.