UPDATED! The Launch of Microsoft Mesh at the Microsoft Ignite Event: Lots of Sizzle, But Little Evidence of Steak

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On Tuesday, March 2nd, 2021, I put on my shiny new Valve Index VR headset and went to the Microsoft Ignite event, which I attended in a virtual auditorium on the social VR platform AltspaceVR (which, of course, is owned by Microsoft).

There was the usual enthusiastic corporate keynote by Microsoft Satya Nadella, with special guests such as film director James Cameron. Almost everybody was sporting a Microsoft HoloLens 2 mixed reality headset.

Here are a few pictures I took at the event:

The purpose of the event was to promote something called Microsoft Mesh. What is Microsoft Mesh? Good question. Engadget writer D. Hardawar attempts a concise explanation:

…Microsoft Mesh, the company’s ambitious new attempt at unifying holographic virtual collaboration across multiple devices, be they VR headsets, AR (like HoloLens), laptops or smartphones. Powered by Microsoft’s Azure cloud, Mesh isn’t just an app, it’s a platform that other developers can use to bring remote collaboration to their own software. If remote work is here to stay — and by most accounts, it is — Microsoft wants to be the company taking us beyond Zoom video chats, and towards holographic experiences that everyone can join.

“Not only are we going to be able to share holograms, but we’ll be able to do so in a way that gives us agency and presence,” Sullivan said during our virtual meeting. “We can create these experiences, where even though we’re physically separated, it feels like we’re in the same room, sharing in an experience and collaborating on a project.”

Here’s the requisite slick two-minute promotional video (played to the audience in AltspaceVR during the Microsoft Ignite event) which tries to impart what Microsoft Mesh is all about:

The Ignite event finale was a showstopper, promoting a still-in-development joint venture with Canada’s Cirque du Soleil called Hanai World, which featured not one, but FOUR people captured in volumetric video gathered around a magical campfire, 360-degree video of dancers and jugglers and other Cirque du Soleil performers, and AltspaceVR spectators (like me!) who were able to wander around and experience the space in 3D:

Afterward, there was a mix-and-mingle event which was attended by hundreds of AltspaceVR avatars (no bots, from what I could tell). It was the first time in almost a full year of pandemic lockdown that I truly felt that I was part of a crowd, and it reminded me of the big, splashy events that the old High Fidelity social VR platform used to hold, before they shut down. (*sigh* I still miss the old High Fidelity.)

The Microsoft Ignite mix-and-mingle afterparty in AltspaceVR (which was my first taste of being among a crowd of people in almost a whole year!)

Overall, it was a slick, very polished presentation, and I came away from it with a favourable impression. Other observers were less impressed with the show. Lucas Rizzotto sternly took Microsoft to task when he tweeted:

Microsoft Mesh’s announcement trailer is a highly misleading CG [Computer Generated] concept video that isn’t representative of what launched whatsoever. I love the HoloLens, but we really need to stop with these CG trailers. It’s setting false expectations & confusing EVERYONE.

Lucas continued:

To be clear, I don’t have a problem with “vision CG trailers”. Those can help audiences envision the future & they have a place in a marketer’s toolbelt. But this trailer was tied to an actual software release & that crosses a line. It’s advertising something that doesn’t exist.

I tried the app and was surprised to find something no different than Magic Leap’s Avatar Chat or Facebook Spaces. And honestly, that would have been fine to announce. They could have even done the CG bit later as a “Mesh in 5 years” segment. But they chose to mislead. Why?

Fabien Benetou linked to Lucas’s thread of tweets, saying:

I still didn’t have time check it BUT when I saw the hype and seeing some behind the scene professionally staffed green screen setup I did warn collaborators to NOT get excited before I can see what it actually is, not what it claims to be. Mind the marketing gap!

In my case, that initial “WOW!” first impression has not aged very well as I thought back about what I had seen. There was certainly lots of sizzle, but little evidence of actual steak: currently-available, deliverable VR/AR/XR/MR consumer product.

UPDATED March 6th, 2021: Charlie Fink alerted me to this technical overview of Microsoft Mesh, which you might find of interest (thanks, Charlie!).

UPDATED: Second Life Founder and High Fidelity CEO Philip Rosedale Will Do an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit on February 23rd, 2021

Philip shared the following photo when posting about his Reddit AMA on Twitter (source)

Mark your calendars! Philip tweeted late tonight:

Join me for a Reddit AMA on Feb. 23rd from 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. Pacific Time. Ask me about Spatial Audio, VR, virtual worlds and virtual economies, avatars, and … anything.

So if you have any burning questions you’ve wanted to ask Philip, this is your perfect opportunity! When the AMA starts tomorrow, I will link to it here.

See you there!

UPDATE Feb. 23rd, 2021, 3:51 p.m.: Please accept my apoliogies for not linking to this AMA sooner; I was so tired that I lay down for a nap and landed up sleeping through the entire event!

Here’s the link to the Ask Me Anything posted to the r/IAmA subReddit, with the following introduction posted, plus the above photo as proof that he is, indeed, THE Philip Rosedale!

Hi Reddit!

I am the founder of the virtual civilization Second Life, populated by one million active users, and am now CEO and co-founder of High Fidelity — which has just released a real-time spatial audio API for apps, games, and websites. If you want to check it out, I’d love to hear what you think: highfidelity.com/api

High Fidelity’s Spatial Audio was initially built for our VR platform — we have been obsessive about audio quality from day one, spending our resources lowering latency and nailing spatialization.

Ask me about immersive spatial audio, VR, virtual worlds and spaces, avatars, and … anything.

(With me today I have /u/MaiaHighFidelity and /u/Valefox to answer technical questions about the API, too.)

This AMA has also been reposted the the r/secondlife, r//HighFidelity, r/WebRTC. and r/GameAudio subReddits.

UPDATE 4:26 p.m.: I have been informed that the AMA is still going on, as of this writing!

UPDATED! Saying Good Bye to Facebook, for Good: Taking the Final Step (Plus a Look at All the Personal Data the Oculus App Collects and Sends to Facebook)

Today, I took the final step…

Today, I took the final step in my emancipation from Facebook and Oculus. I did a factory reset on my original version Oculus Quest, de-associating my Oculus account from it, and wiping all the games and apps on it. Then, I deleted the Oculus app from my cellphone. Two simple steps, and I am now completely free of Facebook! (The Quest 1 will be going to my sister-in-law in Alberta, where she plans to use it in her work with developmentally-challenged adults. It will have a good second home.)

I’ll admit that I was sitting on the fence for a little while, as I wrote about here. While replacing my Oculus Rift with a Valve Index was an easy, painless upgrade (and I’m quite happy with it), there’s currently no competition for the wireless Oculus Quest VR headset. It’s a great headset, but I can no longer in good conscience sign on to the associated vacuuming of my personal data that comes with the deal, and I just absolutely, resolutely refuse to set up an account on the Facebook social network for my Oculus Quest.

What finally pushed me into making this final decision was a recent tweet by social VR app developer Cix Liv, who posted the following:

Just to put in perspective the corporate lies of @FBRealityLabs [Facebook Reality Labs] in perspective. @boztank [Andrew Bosworth, Vice President of Facebook Reality Labs at Facebook] says there will be a “big shift in privacy”. Meanwhile the Oculus app tracks you even more than their Facebook app. Check it yourself.

A brief fly-through of the Oculus app privacy statement, which you need to install in order to activate your Quest (you can check it out yourself in the App Store, or just scroll down to the update at the end of this blogpost to see the list in full)

Cix Liv is one of those developers whose idea for a VR app was poached by Facebook, a story you can read about in a December 3rd, 2020, Bloomberg News article titled Facebook Accused of Squeezing Rival Startups in Virtual Reality (original articlearchived link).

Now, you might tell me that I am overreacting in singling out Facebook as the target of my ire. Of course, I do know that other Big Tech companies like Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft strip-mine my personal data as well. The issue is one of TRUST. And frankly, I no longer trust Facebook Inc., while I still retain at least some level of trust that Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft will not abuse the data they have on me. In an editorial I wrote way back in August of 2019, I said:

More concerning to me is that, at some point, I may be forced to get an account on the Facebook social network to use apps on my Oculus VR hardware. In fact, this has already happened with the events app Oculus Venues, which I recently discovered requires you to have an account on the Facebook social network to access.

Sorry, but after all the Facebook privacy scandals of the past couple of years, that’s a big, fat “Nope!” from me. I asked Facebook to delete its 13 years of user data on me, and I quit the social network in protest as my New Year’s resolution last December, and I am never coming back. And I am quite sure that many of Facebook’s original users feel exactly the same way, scaling back on their use of the platform or, like me, opting out completely. I regret I ever started using Facebook thirteen years ago, and that experience will inform my use (and avoidance) of other social networks in the future.

Yes, I do know that I have to have an Oculus account to be able to use my Oculus Rift and Oculus Quest VR headsets, and that Facebook is collecting data on that. I also know that the Facebook social network probably has a “shadow account” on me based on things such as images uploaded to the social network and tagged with my name by friends and family, etc., but I am going to assume that Facebook has indeed done what I have asked and removed my data from their social network. Frankly, there is no way for me to actually verify this, as consumers in Canada and the U.S. have zero rights over the data companies like Facebook collects about them, as was vividly brought to life by Dr. David Carroll, whose dogged search for answers to how his personal data was misused in the Cambridge Analytica scandal played a focal role in the Netflix documentary The Great Hack (which I highly recommend you watch).

We’ve already seen how social networks such as Facebook have contributed negatively to society by contributing to the polarization and radicalization of people’s political opinions, and giving a platform to groups such as white supremacists and anti-vaxersThe Great Hack details how Cambridge Analytica used Facebook data without user knowledge or consent to swing the most recent U.S. election in Donald Trump’s favour, and look at the f***ing mess the world is in now just because of that one single, pivotal event.

Well, as it turns out, Facebook did do an about-face, change the rules, and insist that Oculus VR headset users will have to get accounts on the Facebook social network for their devices to continue to work “properly”. While I still have an Oculus account (and, at least at first glance at the Oculus website, there appears to be no way to actually delete that account*), I no longer run any Facebook or Oculus apps on my desktop computer or any of my mobile devices. Facebook may still have a “shadow account” on me, but at least I can feel comfortable that I am no longer actively sending them any data from any Facebook/Oculus apps. Good bye and good riddance!

As for this blog, I will, of course, continue to write about Facebook, Oculus, and Facebook’s own social VR platform, Facebook Horizon—just not from a first-person perspective! I do not feel that I am missing out on anything by the stance that I have taken.

Freedom from Facebook!

Free from Facebook, at last! It feels great.

*Found it! I have now asked Facebook to delete my Oculus account, too.

UPDATE Feb. 18th, 2021: I have decided to cut and paste the entire App Privacy statement from Apple’s App Store for the Oculus app below, so you can read for yourself just how much data the app shares with Facebook Inc.!


App Privacy

The developer, Facebook Technologies, LLC, indicated that the app’s privacy practices may include handling of data as described below. This information has not been verified by Apple. For more information, see the developer’s privacy policy.

To help you better understand the developer’s responses, see Privacy Definitions and Examples.

Privacy practices may vary, for example, based on the features you use or your age. Learn More

Data Linked to You

The following data, which may be collected and linked to your identity, may be used for the following purposes:

Third-Party Advertising

Purchases
  • Purchase History
Financial Info
  • Other Financial Info
Location
  • Precise Location
  • Coarse Location
Contact Info
  • Physical Address
  • Email Address
  • Name
  • Phone Number
  • Other User Contact Info
Contacts
  • Contacts
User Content
  • Photos or Videos
  • Gameplay Content
  • Other User Content
Search History
  • Search History
Browsing History
  • Browsing History
Identifiers
  • User ID
  • Device ID
Usage Data
  • Product Interaction
  • Advertising Data
  • Other Usage Data
Diagnostics
  • Crash Data
  • Performance Data
  • Other Diagnostic Data
Other Data
  • Other Data Types

Developer’s Advertising or Marketing

Purchases
  • Purchase History
Financial Info
  • Other Financial Info
Location
  • Precise Location
  • Coarse Location
Contact Info
  • Physical Address
  • Email Address
  • Name
  • Phone Number
  • Other User Contact Info
Contacts
  • Contacts
User Content
  • Photos or Videos
  • Gameplay Content
  • Other User Content
Search History
  • Search History
Browsing History
  • Browsing History
Identifiers
  • User ID
  • Device ID
Usage Data
  • Product Interaction
  • Advertising Data
  • Other Usage Data
Diagnostics
  • Crash Data
  • Performance Data
  • Other Diagnostic Data
Other Data
  • Other Data Types

Analytics

Health & Fitness
  • Health
  • Fitness
Purchases
  • Purchase History
Financial Info
  • Payment Info
  • Other Financial Info
Location
  • Precise Location
  • Coarse Location
Contact Info
  • Physical Address
  • Email Address
  • Name
  • Phone Number
  • Other User Contact Info
Contacts
  • Contacts
User Content
  • Photos or Videos
  • Audio Data
  • Gameplay Content
  • Customer Support
  • Other User Content
Search History
  • Search History
Browsing History
  • Browsing History
Identifiers
  • User ID
  • Device ID
Usage Data
  • Product Interaction
  • Advertising Data
  • Other Usage Data
Sensitive Info
  • Sensitive Info
Diagnostics
  • Crash Data
  • Performance Data
  • Other Diagnostic Data
Other Data
  • Other Data Types

Product Personalization

Purchases
  • Purchase History
Financial Info
  • Other Financial Info
Location
  • Precise Location
  • Coarse Location
Contact Info
  • Physical Address
  • Email Address
  • Name
  • Phone Number
  • Other User Contact Info
Contacts
  • Contacts
User Content
  • Photos or Videos
  • Gameplay Content
  • Other User Content
Search History
  • Search History
Browsing History
  • Browsing History
Identifiers
  • User ID
  • Device ID
Usage Data
  • Product Interaction
  • Advertising Data
  • Other Usage Data
Sensitive Info
  • Sensitive Info
Diagnostics
  • Crash Data
  • Performance Data
  • Other Diagnostic Data
Other Data
  • Other Data Types

App Functionality

Health & Fitness
  • Health
  • Fitness
Purchases
  • Purchase History
Financial Info
  • Payment Info
  • Credit Info
  • Other Financial Info
Location
  • Precise Location
  • Coarse Location
Contact Info
  • Physical Address
  • Email Address
  • Name
  • Phone Number
  • Other User Contact Info
Contacts
  • Contacts
User Content
  • Emails or Text Messages
  • Photos or Videos
  • Audio Data
  • Gameplay Content
  • Customer Support
  • Other User Content
Search History
  • Search History
Browsing History
  • Browsing History
Identifiers
  • User ID
  • Device ID
Usage Data
  • Product Interaction
  • Advertising Data
  • Other Usage Data
Sensitive Info
  • Sensitive Info
Diagnostics
  • Crash Data
  • Performance Data
  • Other Diagnostic Data
Other Data
  • Other Data Types

Other Purposes

Purchases
  • Purchase History
Financial Info
  • Other Financial Info
Location
  • Precise Location
  • Coarse Location
Contact Info
  • Physical Address
  • Email Address
  • Name
  • Phone Number
  • Other User Contact Info
Contacts
  • Contacts
User Content
  • Photos or Videos
  • Gameplay Content
  • Customer Support
  • Other User Content
Search History
  • Search History
Browsing History
  • Browsing History
Identifiers
  • User ID
  • Device ID
Usage Data
  • Product Interaction
  • Advertising Data
  • Other Usage Data
Diagnostics
  • Crash Data
  • Performance Data
  • Other Diagnostic Data
Other Data
  • Other Data Types

Wow…that’s a LOT. Why does Oculus need my search history and my browsing history, for example? Or my health and fitness data? And I’d love to know more details about this so-called “Sensitive Info”. What the hell’s that?

I understand that Facebook is currently fighting a battle with Apple over the amount and kind of privacy information being released to the consumer (according to this Harvard Business Review article and other sources).

Social VR Research Alert: You Can Participate in a Clemson University Research Survey of LGBTQ+ Users of Social VR Platforms

Back in October of 2019, I wrote a blogpost about a research study being conducted by Clemson University on the use of social VR. Well, Clemson University’s Gaming and Mediated Experince (CU GAME) Lab, led by Dr. Guo Freeman in their School of Computing, is conducting a survey of LBGTQ+ (Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender, Queer, etc.) users of social VR platforms—including conducting interviews in AltspaceVR, Rec Room and VRChat, if you wish!

If you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and you are interested in being interviewed for 60 to 90 minutes about your experiences in social VR, particularly with respect to self-presentation and social support, then you are invited to fill out this online form (more information about the research study can be found here). The form states:

We are a group of academic researchers at Clemson University who are conducting a research project about social VR. We are interested in interviewing individuals who identify as LGBTQ+, and understanding their experiences.

No personally identifiable data will be asked or collected, but we’ll ask general demographics questions (age, location, race, etc). You do not have to answer any questions that you do not feel comfortable answering.

If you have experienced any social VR platforms / applications / environments (AltspaceVR, Rec Room, VRChat, etc.) and are willing to be interviewed, please fill out the form … and we will contact you for more details about this research project.

Here is the link for a document with more information about the study.

Feel free to email us at dacena@clemson.edu if you have any questions.

Interviews are to be scheduled during the month February, and can be done via telephone call, Discord (text or voice chat), Zoom (voice or video chat), or even on the social VR platforms AltspaceVR, Rec Room, or VRChat!

If you are interested, here is a the website (including a list of current research publications) by the Clemson University GAME Lab.

Are you a member of the LGBTQ community and use one or more social VR platforms? Clemson University wants to interview you! (Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash)