Immersive Learning Research Network Conference in VirBELA and AltspaceVR, June 21-25, 2020

iLRN 2020, the 6th International Conference of the Immersive Learning Research Network, is running in VirBELA and AltspaceVR from June 21st to 25th, 2020, one of many real-life conferences that have moved to social VR and virtual worlds because of the coronavirus pandemic. This year’s conference theme is Vision 20/20: Hindsight, Insight, and Foresight in XR and Immersive Learning:

Conference attendees must download and install a white-label version of VirBELA to attend most of the conference presentations and events. Here’s a look at the spawn point next to the information booth:

VirBELA is a virtual world I have written about before on this blog, which is very similar to Second Life (Here is a link to all my blogposts tagged VirBELA, including this one).

A view of the iLRN main stage in VirBELA

However, VirBELA is intended for corporate and conference use, as opposed to the more open-ended uses of SL, so it’s a good fit for the iLRN conference. (It looks as though AltspaceVR is primarily being used for social events associated with the conference through the Educators in VR group, according to the AltspaceVR Events calendar.)

The iLRN 2020 Expo Hall in VirBELA

If you’re interested, you can register for free for this conference via EventBrite (I got in free through an early-bird ticket special I wrote about here). I plan on attending a few presentations in between working from home for my university library system.

See you there!

FRAME: A Brief Introduction to a New Browser-Based VR-Compatible Virtual World, by VirBELA

FRAME is a brand new product by the company that brought you VirBELA, a separate browser-based virtual world with VR support, built with open web technology (WebXR) instead of Unity (which VirBELA uses).

When you visit their website, instead of a flat website homepage, you are loaded directly into a three-dimensional space, a tutorial room which explains what FRAME is meant to be used for. You navigate using the mouse and the arrow keys of your keyboard, or you can click on the small VR icon in the bottom right-hand corner and put on your VR headset.

You are invited to create an account, using your existing Google, Microsoft or Facebook credentials, or create a new FRAME account using your email address. After registering an account via email, I got the following welcoming message:

Thanks for signing up for the FRAME beta! Frame lets you quickly create immersive meeting spaces and presentations and then invite others in with a link. No download or install needed – right from a browser on desktop, mobile, or VR.

We encourage you to create your own FRAMES and let us know if you have any feedback if you use it to hold your own meetings or presentations. We have a Discord group where you can ask us questions, give feedback, interact with the FRAME user community, and stay up to date. Check it out!

FRAME is evolving rapidly, and as such you might find occasional hiccups in our service. Please keep in mind that FRAME is still in beta and uses some cutting-edge technology. 

Finally – if you need a version of FRAME with custom features or designs that you aren’t able to build yourself in FRAME, we would be happy to discuss that with you. 

We’re here to help if you have any questions or thoughts, and we can’t wait to show you what’s coming next for FRAME. 

Gabe and Dan,
The FRAME Team

You can browse through the FRAME NEXUS user documentation to get up to speed. There’s even something called the FRAME ACADEMY to help teach WebXR, with online lessons and projects, and even hands-on workshops!

If you want learn more about FRAME, I invite you to visit their website, join their new Discord server, or follow the project on social media via Twitter and Facebook.

I will be adding FRAME to my ever-expanding list of social VR platforms and virtual worlds.

Herding Cats: Taking a First Step Towards Developing a Taxonomy of Metaverse Platforms by Looking at Virtual Worlds That Do NOT Support Virtual Reality

What’s the Best Way to Organize Social VR and Virtual Worlds?
(Photo by Edgar Chaparro on Unsplash)

This evening, I thought I would start working on a task I have put off for far, far too long: organizing my comprehensive list of social VR platforms and virtual worlds (almost 150 entries) into some better semblance of order. (And, in some cases, provide an overdue status update. For example, I had forgotten to remove my note that Decentraland was not yet open to the public after their February 2020 launch.)

I hope to be able to come with a classification scheme, a taxonomy where similar platforms are grouped together. But how to do this grouping? Where to start?

Well, we could start by taking a look at the oldest, so-called “first generation” section first: the virtual worlds that can only be accessed via desktop on a flat monitor, the so-called “pancake worlds” that do not support virtual reality.

This list could further be divided by whether the virtual world was sill operating or was dead. Sometimes, you are lucky enough to get an official “Closed” sign when you visit their website, like with The Deep when you visit their website.

Some projects never are officially closed…
(Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash)

But of course, not all virtual world projects are so clear-cut as “closed” or “open”; “dead” or “alive”. Think of all those projects in between, that may be stuck in some sort of software development hell, or slowly circling the drain, or on life support at best. Let’s call those “Questionable Status / Stalled / Moribund” as a catch-all category.

In drawing up this first list, I will be removing any products which are clearly more MMO/MMORPG games instead of open-ended worlds (although the line between those is also frustratingly blurry at times). I’m also not going to bother with primarily adult/sex-oriented worlds such as Utherverse/Red Light Center, although I do know that some people do use this type of virtual world for non-sexual socializing. If it’s marketed as a word primarily for virtual sex, I’m not interested, sorry!


“Pancake Worlds” (Virtual Worlds That Do NOT Support Virtual Reality)

Still Operating

  • Second Life (now almost 17 years old, and still the most commercially successful and popular virtual world to date, with approximately 600,000 regular monthly users)
  • Active Worlds (the granddaddy of all virtual worlds, launched on June 28th, 1995, and now almost 25 years old)
  • Avakin Life (a mobile app)
  • Decentraland (blockchain-based virtual world, which launched in February 2020)
  • Dreams (a game and world-building platform for PlayStation, which currently does not support VR, although future PSVR support is planned)
  • Ever, Jane (latest update was October 2019, so it’s still operating!)
  • IMVU
  • Kitely (an OpenSim grid, which has also announced that they are working on a fork of the open-source High Fidelity software code)
  • Occupy White Walls
  • OpenSim based virtual worlds (e.g. OSGrid); here’s a list of active OpenSim grids (trying to keep track of which ones are open or closed is like herding cats)
  • There.com (their blog was just updated today; they’re still operating!)
  • VirBELA*
  • Virtual Paradise (an older virtual world very similar to Active Worlds; the latest update was in October 2019, so it’s still operating!)

Questionable Status/Stalled/Moribund

Well and Truly Dead (Amen and Hallelujah!)

  • Aether City (a blockchain-based virtual world that never got off the ground)
  • Blue Mars
  • The Deep  (another blockchain-based virtual world that never got off the ground)
  • InWorldz (This grid, which was based on OpenSim, closed on July 27th, 2018.)
  • Islandz Virtual World (the successor to InWorldz; closed in February 2019)
  • NeoWorld (another blockchain-based virtual world…seeing a trend here?)

Looking at this list of virtual worlds that do not support users in VR headsets, several thoughts on other ways to organize it come to mind:

  • We could easily pull out the many blockchain-based virtual worlds into a separate list
  • We could pull out Second Life and all the OpenSim-based virtual worlds (e.g. Avacon, Kitely) into a separate list
  • We could put Active Worlds and Virtual Paradise in their own category, too
  • Some products, like Avakin Life and IMVU, have literally dozens of similar products, all pitched at the teen/tween market (another category I do not wish to cover on this blog)

Another interesting point is that many of these “pancake worlds” are older (and some quite old), with an exception: the brand-new, blockchain-based virtual worlds such as Decentraland and The Sandbox. I find it interesting that many of the companies building blockchain-based platforms decided to avoid virtual reality completely (although, of course, many did include VR support in their products, as we shall see in the next blogpost I make about my progress in constructing a taxonomy).

Anyway, I thought I would publish this work-in-progress to the blog, for my readers to comment on. Which of the products in the Questionable Status category should be declared well and truly dead, and given a decent burial? What products were you surprised to see here, or surprised at how I categorized them? What ideas do you have about to go about the Herculean task of organizing them into categories?

Please feel free to leave a comment, thanks!

*UPDATE May 6th, 2020: A commenter to this blogpost informs me that VirBELA now supports virtual reality. Thank you to reader Alexander Grobe for this update!

The Billion Dollar Real Estate Company Using VirBELA For Its Virtual Offices

eXp realty
Image source: eXp Realty’s Facebook page

A real-life real estate company is using VirBELA for their virtual office space, the Oddity Central website reports:

eXp Realty, one of the world’s fastest growing and most successful real estate companies, has become famous for not investing in any actual real-estate, opting instead for virtual reality offices that allow its agents and brokers to interact and socialize from anywhere around the globe.

Glenn Sanford, eXp Realty’s founder and CEO, founded the company a decade ago, soon after the real estate market collapse of 2007. He couldn’t afford to buy or rent office space, and figured that focusing on a system that allowed his team to work remotely would help the company avert disaster, should another real-estate crisis occur in the future. So eXp Realty relied on services like Google Docs and spreadsheets, project management solutions like Trello, and communications app Slack to help its workforce work together without actually sharing the same space. But three years ago, the company took this remote collaboration system to a whole new level, by building a campus complete with offices, meeting rooms, auditoriums, lounges and more, in virtual reality.

Now, I do take issue with calling the VirBELA platform “virtual reality”. You can’t actually visit the eXp virtual offices in a VR headset, which is my definition of social VR. I would call VirBELA, like Second Life, a “virtual world” rather than “virtual reality”.

Apart from a small leased space in Bellingham, Washington, that acts as a headquarters but is actually just a storage space full of file cabinets, and a few empty locations in places where physical addresses are mandated by law, eXp Realty only exists in the virtual world. The real irony is that the whole purpose of the company is to help people buy and sell real world properties, like houses and office buildings.

“The virtual campus is a big part of our growth engine. If we were to have the constraints of physical offices, the growth we’ve had simply wouldn’t be possible,” Scott Petronis, chief technology officer of eXp Realty, told Singularity Hub.

This is quite the marketing coup for VirBELA, which is a much smaller platform than Second Life. Historically, Linden Lab has found it difficult to attract and retain real-life business clients in Second Life. I’m sure that they’re not too happy that they missed out on providing virtual world services to a big, profitable company like eXp Realty.