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!

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Book Review of Charlie Fink’s Remote Collaboration and Virtual Conferences: The Future of Work

I will be blunt: this is a rather perplexing (and downright irritating) book.

First, let’s deal with the irritating parts. In an afterword, a preface to the advertising sponsors (yes, this book has advertising, like a magazine), it reads:

There isn’t much of a business in books, especially if they are rushed to market in ten weeks by an academic team without the resources to pay for design, printing, the Kindle version, websites, and social media, which adds up to tens of thousands of dollars.

That rush to market is all too readily apparent in the final product. Here is an actual screenshot of one of the pages of the book, which I took using SnagIt from the Windows Kindle app at 100% zoom, because I had to share the horror of it with you all (the red notes are mine):

As you can see, it is riddled with typography and font problems, with parts of headings cut off or overlaid with diagrams. The text in the Windows Kindle app (even at 125% or 150% zoom) is frankly unreadable. Page 101 is mistakenly left blank, which means that somebody’s essay (Charlie’s?) starts off in mid-sentence.

This is a mess. Did nobody proof-read this before it was set to sale on Amazon? Test it out on a few Kindle devices to see how it actually looked? After paying CA$20.00 for this book, I feel like asking for my money back, just for the poor quality of the publication alone. You should know that, up front, before you pay for this book.

Thankfully, the text was somewhat more legible on the Kindle app on my iPad, so I settled in for a good read. And this is where we get to the rather perplexing part of the book: the content.

My understanding is that this book is the result of a undergraduate-level course Charlie Fink was teaching on virtual and augmented reality at Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, which was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. The eight students in his class were sent home to practice good social distancing with Oculus Quest VR headsets, and collaborated to write the one-page profiles of each of the companies which appear in this book. And this book still feels somewhat like a class project; some profiles are better written than others, and the coverage is a tad uneven.

And, as I said when I first reported on the publication of this book last weekend:

Now, the problem with a book (even an electronic book) is that it only provides a snapshot of a rapidly-moving and evolving industry, and as such, it will very quickly become out of date.

And, as a book, it will indeed age very rapidly. Given the rapid rate of change in this industry, six to twelve months from now, it will likely already be out of date (is this why it was rushed out in such an hurry?). Frankly, I’m not sure I understand why this was published as a static book in the first place. (Why not a website, which could at least be updated in real-time or near real-time?)

As somebody who has spent the last three years writing a blog about social VR and virtual world platforms, I feel I am in a somewhat favourable position to judge how well a book covers the territory, to wit, “remote collaboration and virtual conferences”. (You can disagree with me. I’m not perfect. I probably would write a lousy book myself. But I’m not trying to write and sell a book. I’m a blogger who wants to disseminate accurate, timely news and my own personal editorial viewpoints, informed by my own perspective and experiences in the metaverse.)

Here’s another screenshot (this time from my iPad, since the Windows version has the same horrible, blurry font) to show you the list of companies selected for inclusion in this survey (and yes, the headings are all smashed together and cut off on this page as well):

Now, as you might expect, five of the six corporate sponsors of this book (Arthur, Flow, Nreal, Streem, The Wild, and VirBELA) have entries describing their products. Obviously, Nreal doesn’t have an actual collaboration platform to talk about (at least, not yet), but they did provide an advertisement that looks like it came straight from a fashion and lifestyle magazine:

Which leads me to another concern of this book: separating fact from hype. Too much of this book reads like it was cut and pasted directly from the company’s promotional copy or website, without any real independent critical assessment, or sometimes even without proper characterization and categorization, of the products discussed and where they fit in this rapidly-evolving marketplace. It’s a broad-brush approach, and sometimes unlikely things get lumped together under a category heading.

For example, under the heading Social VR in the book are listed seven platforms, all of which I have written about on my blog in the past:

  • Bigscreen
  • Fortnite (?!??)
  • Hoppin’
  • NeosVR
  • Rec Room
  • VRChat
  • Wave

Now this is a rather haphazard selection of social VR platforms, meant for different purposes, and at wildly different stages of development and deployment. It’s almost as if they were picked out a hat at random, and I know (I know, trust me) that there are many platforms missing. This is far from a complete survey of social VR; it’s more of a random sampling. Oh, and Fortnite is categorized as social VR? While yes, technically, it appears you can play Fortnite in a VR headset, I would hardly call it social VR. Again, a sign of a rushed process.

Perhaps Fortnite would have fit better under the Virtual Worlds category? Here are the five platforms listed under Virtual Worlds:

  • Decentraland
  • Second Life
  • Teeoh
  • VirBELA
  • Somnium Space (which probably should be listed under social VR)

Again, it’s like these five platforms were picked at random from a hat. Again, a lot of virtual worlds are missing from this book. This is, at best, a very random sampling of the current marketplace.

The whole book is like this. For example, Coursera and EdX are listed under Remote Education, but they are vastly different beasts from all the other entries in this section: Victory XR (used for a variety of VR education purposes); Acadicus, Fundamental VR, Holo Anatomy, and Precision OS (all medical VR/AR teaching platforms); and Nanome (a VR platform for molecular chemistry).

As a librarian, all this miscategorization of platforms bothers me. A lot. This whole book reads like a rush job from start to finish.

And, tucked into the Telepresence category, is probably to me the most ludicrous inclusion of all: a page discussing the $2,000-to-$15,000 line of Beam robotic systems (basically, a video screen with wheels):

Beam is a robotic telepresence system that allows users to inhabit a distant location embodied—not as an avatar—but as themselves, piloting a 2D tablet computer through a 3D world and interacting with other people as if physically present.The robots have four wheels…a wide-angle navigation camera, a monitor to show the user’s face and a speaker to communicate with others.

Beam is lumped in with Avatour (which should have been categorized together with Hoppin’, since it’s another 360-degree video platform); and Spatiate (an augmented reality workplace collaboration app that should have been placed in that section). What the hell?

If this book were free, I would understand and forgive, but I paid good money for this and I’m feeling like I wasted that money. You will get an unpolished, uneven, uncritical, disorganized, and seemingly picked-at-random sample of what’s currently out there in the VR/AR/XR collaboration marketplace, written by undergraduate students for a course credit as a class project, in a format which will make it practically useless in six to twelve months. I feel like asking for a refund.

It might have made a great class project, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it makes a great book.

P. S. I hope that Charlie Fink shares whatever proceeds he earns from this ebook with the students who wrote all the company profiles!

UPDATED! A New Book and a New Website Attempt to Cover the Rapidly-Expanding VR/AR/XR Collaborative Marketplace

May I invite you to join the RyanSchultz.com Discord server, the world’s first cross-worlds discussion forum? Over 400 people from around the world, representing many different social VR platforms and virtual worlds, meet daily to chat, discuss, debate, and argue about the ever-evolving metaverse, and the companies building it. We’d love to have you join us!


(Yes, I know, I KNOW, I am officially on vacation from the blog…but I had another pernicious bout of insomnia, and I’ve been up since 2:00 a.m., sooo…)


I wanted to alert my readers to two new resources I have only just discovered in the past couple of days. Both are different approaches to attempt to organize information about what I like to collectively call YARTVRA: an acronym which I am still, dearly hoping against hope, will eventually catch on in this nascent industry, which stands for Yet Another Remote Teamwork Virtual Reality App. (You can see all my blogposts tagged YARTVRA, including this one, here.)

A Rallying Cry: YARTVRA!

First, Charlie Fink, who writes about virtual and augmented reality for Forbes, is publishing an electronic book called Remote Collaboration & Virtual Conferences: The Future of Work. It’s not out yet, but it will be released on June 16th, 2020 (you can pre-order it on Amazon). According to the description of the book on Amazon:

Join Professor Charlie Fink and his Chapman University VRAR340 “XR Landscape” students who, in the Spring of 2020, explored the ascendancy of the video call during the Coronavirus crisis. Ultimately, they reviewed 120 companies, exploring options for conferences, training, education, and remote team collaboration. They made a profile for each platform, creating a comprehensive directory for these online applications. The resulting book, Remote Collaboration, Virtual Conferences, The Future of Work, shows how new tools, including VR and AR, can solve the problem of being together when we have to stay apart.

Now, the problem with a book (even an electronic book) is that it only provides a snapshot of a rapidly-moving and evolving industry, and as such, it will very quickly become out of date.

A website is much easier to keep up-to-date, which is the idea behind a brand new website which I first learned about from the Educators in VR Facebook group, called XR Collaboration: A Global Resource Guide.

Image from the XR Collaboration Website

According to the website’s About page:

The Global Resource Guide to XR Collaboration is an interactive and comprehensive online tool that helps companies utilize XR collaboration and remote work tools for businesses.  The resource guide will serve as a central repository of detailed information about XR collaboration products and platforms and include an easy-to-use interactive tool for matching to specific business needs, a feature that will be available by the end of this month. All of this will be free to use and free to share.

A key feature of the XR Collaboration website is an interactive directory, where you can filter a listing of 64 YARTVRA platforms by:

  • the number of collaborators the platform supports (2 to 50+);
  • the VR/AR hardware brand names the platform supports;
  • the type of collaboration the platform supports (this is similar to my Venn diagram, Social VR Platforms Organized by Primary Purpose);
  • the operating systems the platform supports (e.g. Android, iOS, PC/Windows, Steam, WebXR, etc.);
  • the platform’s features (e.g. desktop sharing, avatars, etc.);
  • the industries the platform is intended to serve (which I think would overlap a bit with the type of collaboration, above).

Now, I must caution you that this is very much still a directory under construction! Clicking on any of the logos takes you to an undefined URL, at least so far. (UPDATE June 19th: Apparently, I was mistaken. This does work; I was just confused by the URLs that appeared at the bottom of my Chrome browser when I hovered over the links in this directory.)

Also, just a quick, cursory spot check of some of the websites for some of these XR collaboration companies pulls up a few errors (for example, Project Chimera by Pagoni VR is listed here as serving the arts and entertainment industry, when it really should be categorized under education). But it is still early days, and I assume these sorts of errors will be corrected as the directory is fleshed out. (By the way, there is a form for companies to fill out to request consideration for entry into this directory. I do see a number of platforms missing. And, if you’re going to include arts and entertainment platforms in this directory, you may as well throw Sansar on there…but I suspect that they want to focus more on the corporate market.)

Hmmm, I wonder if the team of VR/AR/AR experts behind this intriguing project needs a social-VR-obsessed librarian to help keep things organized? This would be a dream job for me, even if it were volunteer! I mean, this is essentially what I have already been doing informally on this blog for the past 2-3/4 years, even though my comprehensive list of social VR platforms and virtual worlds needs a serious reorganization and recategorization as it has grown to over 150 entries (hence my “Herding Cats” series of blogposts).

There’s also an introductory PDF guide to XR collaboration tools available if you provide your name, email address, and primary industry (all the better to create a mailing list, my dear! as the Big Bad Wolf used to say to Little Red Riding Hood).

Anyway, I think this website has the potential to be a very valuable resource, and I wanted to let people know about it (even if I am officially on a vacation from the blog!). If you want to follow the XR Collaboration project on social media, here are the links: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.


O.K. now I am going to go back to bed and try to get some much-needed sleep…

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Spatial, Originally a Social Augmented Reality Platform, Expands to Virtual Reality and Offers a Free Version During the Pandemic

When I first wrote about Spatial back in October of 2018, it was a social augmented reality (AR) platform which only ran on the first generation of AR headsets available for purchase by consumers: the much-hyped Magic Leap and Microsoft’s HoloLens.

(By the way, if you are looking for definitions of terms such as augmented reality, I have compiled a handy list of definitions for my blog readers.)

Since I wrote that first blogpost, Magic Leap has struggled, laying off about half its employees in April 2020, and choosing to focus on enterprise users instead of chasing the consumer market. (It is interesting to compare the recent troubles of Magic Leap with that of Sansar and High Fidelity. In all three cases, the lack of the previously-confidently-predicted massive consumer uptake of VR/AR/MR/XR headsets led directly to their downsizing and restructuring.)

Well, VentureBeat reported on May 13th, 2020 that the company is making Spatial available for free during the pandemic, and they are now supporting the Oculus Quest standalone VR headset:

First, the company is offering multiple months of free access to its premium-level Spatial Pro enterprise service, including support for users without full-fledged AR or VR devices. Businesses will be able to share any Spatial room with team members using just a web link, enabling desktop, laptop, and small device users to join meetings with a web browser, no download or headset required. Spatial’s headset UI has been carried over to the web, enabling 2D screen users to easily observe the 3D spaces.

Second, Spatial is making an Oculus Quest app generally available today, including a “much improved experience” compared with the prior private beta. Although Facebook hasn’t announced sales figures for the hybrid standalone and PC-tethered headset, Spatial characterizes the repeatedly sold-out Quest as “the most widely available XR device today” and says it has refined its user interface to make the experience easier for new users.

Here’s a screencap of Spatial’s pricing page, reflecting this change:

Spatial is free during the coronavirus pandemic!
Spatial is now available on the Oculus Quest, Microsoft HoloLens 1 and 2,
Magic Leap One, and Via Desktop/Flatscreen Web and Mobile Devices

Now, choosing to expand to include the popular Oculus Quest wireless VR headset is a smart move. Facebook does not disclose sales figures for the Quest, but some have estimated (based on game sales) that the company has sold approximately 425,000 Quests in 2019. Contrast this with the poor sales reported of the Magic Leap One:

The Information‘s Alex Heath is reporting that Magic Leap managed to sell just 6,000 units of its $2,300 Magic Leap One headset in its first six months on sale, a figure made worse by CEO Rony Abovitz’s internal claims that he wanted the startup to sell at least one million units of the device in the first year, a goal the report states he was later convinced to rethink — Abovitz later projected the company would sell 100,000 units in the first year.

Of course, such sluggish sales were one of the reasons that Magic Leap essentially gave up on trying to sell to the consumer market, and focused squarely on the corporate market. (Microsoft is a little more forthcoming with its HoloLens sales figures, but at roughly 50,000 units reported sold in 2018, they also are dwarfed by Quest sales.) It only makes sense for the company to add a headset which beings more potential customers—and, hopefully, enterprise sales—to the table. Spatial already boasts Ford, Mattel, T Mobile, Purina and Pfizer among its corporate clients.

Here’s an 11-minute YouTube video demonstrating how Spatial works on the HoloLens 2 AR headset, from 2019:


I happen to own an Oculus Quest, and normally I would leap on an opportunity to test-drive Spatial, except for one small problem: the large space I cleared in my bedroom for my Oculus Quest is now piled high with my pandemic stockpile of non-perishable food, Lysol disinfectant wipes, and toilet paper! So obviously, that’s not going to happen. So I am going to have to rely on second-hand reports on how well Spatial works with the Quest (I am rather curious to know what differences would appear in someone using Spatial in virtual reality as opposed to augmented reality.)

In a separate VentureBeat article, reporter Jeremy Horwitz waxes rhapsodic about his experience using Spatial on his Oculus Quest:

I’m not often at a loss for words, but as I re-entered the real world after my second holographic media briefing this month, I realized that I was struggling to speak or type. Mentally, the sensation was awe — my sincere belief that I had just experienced the future of remote work and meetings…

The breakthrough here is Spatial, a collaborative workspace app that just became available for the popular Oculus Quest VR headset. It’s not hyperbole to say that Spatial has unilaterally reignited my enthusiasm for the Quest, which has recently gathered dust on my desk, as the potent pairing enables me to quickly participate in 3D group meetings filled with multiple realistic participants. Instead of using cartoony avatars or floating video tiles, Spatial users appear as “holograms” with real faces, motion-sensed head and hand movements, and even lip motions keyed to their live voices.

The text under the three smaller pictures along the bottom of this image, which is a bit hard to read here, says:

– Create your 3D-realistic avatar from a single selfie in second
– Your avatar comes to life as you talk, move and interact
– Shake hands and high-five each other

So, if anybody out there wants to try the free version of Spatial on their Oculus Quest, and write up a review, I would be happy to provide the blogpost for a guest review! Thanks! I hope somebody takes me up on my offer.

If you want to learn more about Spatial, you can visit their web page, or follow them on social media: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.