Philip Rosedale Talks About His 30 Years of Experiences with Virtual Worlds and Social VR

Philip Rosedale

Numerous people have posted the following YouTube video to various social media and community forums in the past few days: a classroom presentation by Philip Rosedale at the University of Washington in Seattle on May 21st, 2019, as part of their Reality Lab Lectures series.

Philip is a pioneer and a visionary, and he is an engaging speaker, leading his audience through a history of how he became enamored and involved with virtual worlds and virtual reality, and how he built Second Life, founding Linden Lab in 1999, and then, in 2012, starting his new company High Fidelity. You need to watch this; it’s great! (There are a few minor sound issues with the video.)

In response to a student question, he talks about how High Fidelity is working on an app where you can take a single photo of a person and create a 3D avatar from that (at the 43:30 mark). I love this idea (especially since I happen to live a long way away from the closest Doob full-body scanner!), and I hope that HiFi has not dropped this project in their recent pivot to the remote business teams market.

He also says that they already have a version of High Fidelity that runs on the Oculus Quest (at the 1:00:25 mark), but he’s not sure when they will release it. The company may decide to allow people to sideload the app, which would get around having an official release on the Oculus Store.


Libraries Providing Virtual Reference Service via Virtual Reality: An Idea Whose Time Has Come?

The short answer is: not yet, but that doesn’t mean that libraries shouldn’t prepare for the eventuality.

Reference Desk, UCLA School of Law

Many academic, public, and special libraries offer virtual reference services to their users. The American Library Association defines virtual reference as:

Virtual reference is reference service initiated electronically, often in real-time, where patrons employ computers or other Internet technology to communicate with reference staff, without being physically present. Communication channels used frequently in virtual reference include chat, videoconferencing, Voice over IP, co-browsing, e-mail, and instant messaging…

Reference services requested and provided over the Internet, usually via e-mail, instant messaging (“chat”), or Web-based submission forms, usually answered by librarians in the reference department of a library, sometimes by the participants in a collaborative reference system serving more than one institution.

There has been extensive academic research done on libraries offering services in predecessor virtual worlds such as Second Life. Libraries’ and librarians’ presence in SL has waned after an initial burst of enthusiasm, mainly due to budgetary constraints, the relatively steep learning curve associated with Second Life, and the fact that few people were prepared to use what they considered a game platform to access library services (i.e. a mismatch between anticipated users and actual users). However, this earlier wave of research gives us a glimpse of what virtual reference via VR could look like. In fact, one person (Cedar Librarian) has already built a functional library on the social VR platform High Fidelity, using public-domain versions of classic books. (I would, however, argue strongly that the “library” is the actual service of a librarian, rather than simply a static collection of books, even if they are digitized and accessible via a computer.)

One important issue that virtual reference service via VR would face is the licensing of resources. Libraries sign license agreements with commercial database publishers which restrict access to institutional users only. This means that, if I were to provide reference services to a user not affiliated with my institution, I would not be able to provide them with copies of books and articles. However, there are still many useful non-commercial information resources such as Google Scholar that we could refer users to, as well as the myriad of resources of their own local public and academic libraries. Librarians refer users to other libraries all the time.

Another key issue is the cost of VR equipment and the learning curve associated with social VR platforms. While I would argue that it is easier and more natural to get started in Sansar than it is in Second Life, it’s still a significant challenge for many people to take their first steps in VR. The first generation of VR headsets, the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, were complicated to set up, and required an expensive gaming-level computer. However, cheaper standalone VR headsets like the Oculus Quest promise to bring VR to an ever larger audience of consumers, including potential library users.

I can forsee a future (starting perhaps a decade from now) where many libraries would offer virtual reference services to users via virtual reality (“VR in VR”, if you like). Users could make appointments for their avatar to meet in-world with a reference librarian, who would assist them in finding electronic and printed information resources to answer their questions. Alternatively, library staff could sit at the virtual reference desk at regularly scheduled shifts, available to whoever dropped in with a query. The reference interview would encompass both text chat and voice chat, and include hand gestures, body language, and facial expressions, just as in real-life conversations. Academic, public, and special libraries could even work together to create a collaborative, 24/7 reference service which spans the globe and has locations on many popular social VR platforms.

One day, you might just consult with your reference librarian in virtual reality.
(Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay)

As I said, it’s not here yet. But it’s coming, and perhaps sooner than you might think.

Is Virtual Reality to Become Humanity’s Next Addiction?

The following 15-minute speculative video takes us into a future scenario: what if virtual reality becomes humanity’s next addiction?

This video was produced by a channel called Pursuit of Wonder, which bills itself as “content that makes you curious about life, inspired by life, and feel good in life”. They make a variety of videos about philosophy and technology, which you might find of interest.

This video reminded me of another one I recommend you watch, which gives an idea of what a hypersaturated augmented-reality world could look like in a not-too-distant future:

UPDATED! Not Taking “No” for an Answer: The Developers Behind The Expanse Have an Unexpected Hit on Their Hands with SideQuest

This story is a perfect example of not taking “no” for an answer, and how what could have been a setback was instead turned into a golden opportunity for one company!

Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

I first wrote about The Expanse social VR platform back in April. The company behind The Expanse, a fledgling virtual world, had wanted to launch their product on the Oculus Quest, but they were among the many software developers told “No” by Facebook, which appears to have taken a much more stringent approach to curating content on their new standalone headset. UploadVR reports:

“Originally it was intended to provide a way for us to get our game The Expanse to users of the Oculus Quest headset as our submission pitch was declined by Oculus – something we understood as many more well established apps were also being declined. It then struck me that maybe some of those other developers could also benefit from a super easy sideloading process with things like drag and drop and several apps inbuilt,” Harris wrote to me in a message on his Discord group. “SideQuest is a sideloading tool at heart and actually works with any android device but it has evolved into an unofficial source for apps that you wouldn’t otherwise get on Quest. I would love to see it fill the niche of a testbed for pre-release/alpha/beta testing or for deploying demos for users to try out. I have no plans to monetize SideQuest like a traditional app store as I don’t want to affect the Oculus bottom line and I would love to work with Oculus to become an alternative route for apps and games that have been declined or otherwise or just want to test cutting edge features. I think there has been a lot of discussion around games being declined and I would love if SideQuest could provide a more positive spin for Oculus and Facebook in those scenarios. I guess i see it as a stepping stone to a application for the full oculus store down the line.”

Sideloading is the process of adding apps to your Oculus Quest that are not currently in the Oculus Store. And, as it turns out, there happen to be a lot of software developers (and end users) out there who wanted to be able to sideload their applications. And that’s when the SideQuest project really took off in popularity, and gained a life of its own! (There are other ways to sideload apps on the Quest, but SideQuest makes it simple to do. In fact, in the short few weeks that the Quest has been out, there have already been several iterations to the software to make it even easier to use.)

One very popular feature of the SideQuest software is the ability to add custom songs to the collection of music by which you can play the rhythm VR game Beat Saber. The SideQuest app links directly to the BeastSaber community website, and adding new tracks is as simple as setting up a developer account for your Quest, connecting your Quest to your Windows, Mac, or Linux computer, and clicking a few buttons! Here’s the page with all the details. And here’s a step-by-step YouTube tutorial by the Virtual Reality Oasis:

Congratulations to the team at The Expanse! The SideQuest software is free, but if you want to support their work, here is a link to their Patreon, or you can send a donation via PayPal. If you want more details on The Expanse and SideQuest as they evolve, you can join their Discord channel.

And this whole episode reminds me yet again of the lesson that Friendster never learnedthe people who create the software platforms (in this case, Facebook) think they have control, but it’s really the end users who shape the service and build the community that they want to see. Past a certain point, there’s very little that Facebook can do to stop this, short of completely shutting developers out, which they won’t do. And if they’re smart, Facebook will welcome this, and work with it.

UPDATE 6:43 p.m.: This last paragraph has brought a swift rebuttal from a commenter on the Oculus Quest subReddit, who says:

FFS, no. Facebook is 100% in control. They allow SideQuest. Go ask PSVR Beat Saber players how they “shaped the service” to get custom songs on the PS4. Hint: they didn’t. Sony has that shit locked down like Fort Knox. Oculus could easily require sideloaded apps to be signed with a development license to run. It’s only by their good graces that sideloading and modding is as easy as it is, so don’t pretend for a minute that you’re sticking it to the man. Be grateful there’s some cool folk at Oculus who want us to be able to do this.