UPDATED! Herding Cats, Part II: Taking a Second Step Towards Developing a Taxonomy of Metaverse Platforms by Looking at the Various Purposes of Social VR Platforms

(This blogpost is the second in a series; the first one is here.)

I thought I would set aside some time today, on a somewhat lazy Saturday, brew myself a large pot of black coffee, and attempt to categorize all the social VR platforms I have written about on this blog into some sort of taxonomy. No small feat! But at least I have a full day to tinker with the project. (I might turn this into a journal article and get it published somewhere.)

As my starting points, I used my Comprehensive List of Social VR Platforms, as well as my more detailed Comparison Chart of Sixteen Social VR Platforms (which is now a bit dated, since High Fidelity has essentially shut down, but no matter).

I decided to first try and organize the wide variety of social VR platforms by primary purpose by creating this Venn diagram using Canva.com (the following diagram is available to view and download in various sizes from Flickr, up to 1024 by 768 pixels, just click on it):

Social VR Platforms by Purpose (Version 2.1)

And, this is finally my opportunity to compile a somewhat complete list of what I collectively call the YARTVRA platforms (an acronym I coined, which stands for Yet Another Remote Teams Virtual Reality App). This is currently a hot market for social VR, as corporations struggle to try to provide immersive, remote workteams support to employees working from home during the global public health crisis of the coronavirus pandemic.

Yes, I am going to make the YARTVRA acronym a thing (WORK. WITH. ME, PEOPLE!)

UPDATE May 11th, 2020: Based on feedback I have received, and after doing a little more thinking, I have made some adjustments to version 1.0 of this Venn diagram, and I have now updated it version 2.0. Thank you to everybody who took the time to reach out to me! Summary of changes made is here.

UPDATED AGAIN 9:03 p.m. May 11th, 2020: New version! Version 2.1 (summary of changes made is here).

UPDATE May 12th, 2020: I also wanted to add to this blogpost some thoughtful comments by the Voices of VR podcaster and VR expert Kent Bye, who retweeted this blogpost to his followers on Twitter with the following comment:

Conceptually, any sufficiently robust virtual world will be able to handle multiple contexts ranging from going on a date, hanging with friends, playing games, learning, working. I see context is more driven more by the culture and people using it, more than the platform itself.

Infographic by Kent Bye

He added:

I use the lens of qualities of presence:
Active Presence: Rec Room
Mental & Social Presence: AltSpaceVR, Mozilla Hubs, Engage
Embodied Presence: VRChat
Emotional Presence: Wave, Museum of Other Realities
All of these are always happening to different degrees in social VR, but there’s combos and a center of gravity.

Four Qualities of Presence in Social VR (from a presentation slide by Kent Bye)

Thanks, Kent!

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I Will Be Giving a Presentation on Social VR at the Virtual Germany Meetup in ENGAGE on April 28th, 2020

Mark your calendars! I have been invited to give a presentation to a Germany-wide VR Meetup in ENGAGE on Tuesday, April 28th, 20:00 CET (11:00 a.m. PST). The event is called Virtual Germany, and it is described as:

In cooperation with the VR communities from Berlin, Bremen, Cologne, Erfurt, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hannover, Leipzig and Munich, we are planning the first virtual VR and AR Meetup in Germany.

Look forward to exciting lectures on the topic of social VR and various guests from all over Germany and around the world.

One of the many people involved with Virtual Germany is the illustrious XaosPrincess, who is well-known for her work in High Fidelity, and whom I have written about before here, here, and here. She tells me:

“Virtual Germany” is organized as democratic collaboration of many German real-life Meetup groups (most of Germany’s states are represented). Our host in ENGAGE is Rolf Kruse, while the whole organization is a combined effort.

The topic of my 20-minute presentation is “Overview of the Most Important Social VR Platforms”. The talk will be in English. (I do speak German, but I do not consider myself fluent in the language.)

This will be a semi-public, RSVP event in ENGAGE, which will be advertised in each separate German VR Meetup group. Xaos tells me:

The attendees will be asked to register with the ENGAGE event to be admitted (and to give us an overview on the numbers we can expect – probably/hopefully 100+ visitors minimum). We’re still preparing the final ENGAGE event link and will post it as soon as possible 🙂

We’re going to have four rooms:
– One main room with live talks and presentations (Moon)
– Two backup rooms for additional visitors with live YouTube-Streams of the talks in the main room (Mars & Earth)
– One chill and networking room without any streams (a high rise apartment)

The talks will also be streamed live on YouTube.

If you do not have the ENGAGE software yet, you can download and install it for free here. ENGAGE works on desktop or laptop computers running Windows 10 and a wide variety of VR headsets (here’s a list of supported devices). When there is an event listing on the ENGAGE events calendar, I will update this blogpost with a link to that.

See you on April 28th! I am quite looking forward to this.

Pandemic Diary: April 19th, 2020 (Please Do Not Worry About Me)

This morning, I am reading a story from the Minneapolis/St. Paul Star Tribune newspaper, about an Ironman triathlete in his thirties (clearly healthy by any standard, and fitter than most people) who very nearly died from COVID-19.

Coronavirus survivor Ben O’Donnell (source)

If this is not a warning that the young and healthy are not immune to COVID-19, I don’t know what is. And, as someone who is not-so-young and definitely-not-so-healthy, it is worrisome. I cannot get this virus. I will not get this virus, even if I have to self-isolate in my apartment until there is a vaccine (which is estimated to take 12 to 18 months, if things move at hyperspeed).

Many of you who are reading this blog have reached out to me to express your concern. I want to assure everybody that I am coping as best I can under the circumstances. Yes, it means that some days I will not lie and say that everything is fine, because frankly, some days are rough.

But I will continue to do the best I can to take care of myself, and reach out for help when appropriate. I check in with my psychiatrist who prescribes my anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications biweekly, and I have now entered into a second counselling relationship with a friend of a trusted friend, who has experience with peer counselling in a healthcare setting and has worked as a volunteer at a crisis hotline.

If things get bad (and by “bad”, I mean that my chronic clinical depression makes a serious and long-lasting resurgence), then I will do what needs to be done, go back on sick leave from work, and focus on getting better again. I know the drill; I’ve had it happen to me before and I will get through this. The last time I went on sick leave for depression, I was away for two-and-a-half years, but I fought my way back (with the help of virtual reality, which I firmly believe got my neurons firing properly again) and I have every intention of fighting just as hard if the blackness and bleakness descends upon me again.

Back then, I wrote:

I’ve been under a doctor’s treatment for depression since my mid-twenties, and I probably would have benefitted from seeking treatment even sooner than that. At times, my episodes of depression have been so severe that I have had to go on extended sick leaves from work. I’ve even been hospitalized twice when I was at my very worst. I have had to work very hard to crawl back from the edge of the black pit of despair, more than once in my life.

I first got my Oculus Rift headset back in January 2017, when I was on sick leave for depression from my job, and my life was feeling pretty bleak. Shortly afterwards, I also got the Oculus Touch hand controllers to be able to handle objects in VR.

I have no scientific proof, but I do believe that using that VR headset regularly—creating art using TiltBrush and Oculus Medium, using apps like Guided Meditation VR and Nature Treks VR, and interacting with other avatars and exploring new experiences in High Fidelity and the then-closed Sansar beta—was indeed a beneficial factor in my most recent recovery from depression. The best way I can describe it was that VR got my neurons firing again!

Some would no doubt argue that too much use of a VR headset is isolating, which I can understand if you are only playing solo games, or spending innumerable hours immersed in VR. However, in many games, and especially in most social VR spaces, you are often interacting with other people, which would counteract the isolation aspect somewhat. I also strongly recommend taking the time to build up your tolerance to VR, starting from sessions as short as 10-15 minutes, and building up slowly from that. I am a little concerned when I hear about people who boast logging 5, 6, 7, 8, or even more hours at one stretch in VR. Everything in moderation is the key here.

And when you’re too depressed to set foot outside your front door, it can sometimes be easier to slip on a VR headset to visit people and places! No need to get dressed up, or to put on your “happy face” to face the world. There have often been times in the past when I have felt extremely anxious, and I was able to load up the Nature Treks VR app in my Oculus Rift and relax on a calm, sandy beach lined with swaying palm trees, listening to the pounding surf, or just put myself within a mountain-ringed meadow of wildflowers, watching birds and butterflies. Much cheaper than an actual flight to a vacation spot! And you can revisit any time you like, with very little fuss.

I do find it ironic that the empty space I cleared in my bedroom to use my wireless Oculus Quest VR headset is now piled with canned goods and other pandemic preps! However, I still have my trusty original Oculus Rift VR headset, which I still use almost daily. In fact, I even brought home the Oculus Rift and Touch from my work computer (purchased for my suspended research project), sitting in its original box in the middle of my messy living room, and I can honestly say that I have an emergency back-up unit in case any part of my current Oculus Rift/Touch setup fails on me! (The cable attaching the Rift to my high-end gaming computer seems to be the thing that gives out first, according to various user reports.)

When I went to pick up my upholstered office chair last week to soothe my raggedy ass (link is quite safe for work), I also took home my work PC’s ergonomic keyboard and wireless mouse, in case either of those on my personal computer goes kaput on me while in self-isolation, Yes, I have worn through a couple of keyboards and mice in my day. At the moment, I have literally rubbed off the letters on some of the keys on my Microsoft ergonomic keyboard! Good thing I am (almost) a touch typist.

One final note. And I am going to put this is boldface type to make it extra clear:

I use this blog to vent.

In other words, this is an outlet for me. If I am having a bad day, you will most certainly hear about it. This does not mean that I am in any imminent danger of self-harm. It just means that I am complaining about things that are going wrong and how I am feeling, just the same as I would complain to my best friend or my Mom or my shrink about having a bad day.

Some people (in those oh-so-far-away pre-pandemic days) would go to the gym or to the bar and complain to their workout friends or their drinking buddies. I complain to my internet community: to my Discord server, to other Discord servers I belong to (and believe me, I keep bumping up against that 100-Discord-community limit all the time!), to the Second Life community forums (everybody knows Vanity Fair is Ryan Schultz, honey!), to my social networks like Twitter and Reddit…you name it. I have outlets, and I know how to use them. I’m sure you do too, if you think about it.

If what I share here on this blog concerns and worries you, and if you choose to reach out to me to check that I’m doing okay, God bless you for your thoughtfulness and kindness. But please, be assured that I know what I have to do to take care of myself. It’s been learned through 56 years of trial and error, sometimes the hard way, but I have learned.

So please don’t worry overmuch about me if I do vent here. It’s just steam and a whistle from a kettle, and the water has been boiling at quite a pace this past month.

Photo by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash

Stay safe and stay healthy!

UPDATED! Wonda VR: A Brief Introduction

Shades of Indiana Jones…

Wonda VR is an educational social VR platform that seems to be targeting the corporate and higher education markets. Here’s an example used by NYU social work students:

It would appear that most, if not all, of the use cases listed on their page of higher education examples involve 360-degree video.

An interesting use case on their enterprise page uses the platform to help train police officers on how to interact with autistic people:

While Wonda VR does offer a free, limited option, it would appear that they are steering customers toward their US$350-a-month option for up to 50 users, billed annually:

You have to submit your email, name, position and insitutional affiliation to the company to get an invitation to experience the Free level, so I sent everything off, crossed my fingers, and I’ll let you know when I do hear back. I expect a strong-armed sales pitch will be coming my way, but if Wonda VR thinks they can shake US$4,200 from my lint-filled pockets, they’ve got another think coming.

In fact, just this past Thursday, Wonda VR offered a free webinar to learn more about using XR platforms to boost collaboration and creativity, name-dropping a mix of platforms that I had already covered on this blog, and a few that I had never heard of before (time to put on my pith helmet and go exploring in the jungle again!):

I’m actually kind of sorry that I had to miss this (but last Thursday was just a crazy day for me, working for my university library system from self-isolation at home, with lots of online Zoom and Webex meetings).

If you would like to learn more about Wonda VR, you can visit their website, or follow them on social media: Twitter and LindedIn.

UPDATE April 6th, 2020: Well, today I got an email with a sign-in link (and thankfully, no sales pressure, just an invitation to contact the company if I were interested in taking it further).

I wanted to share a 3-minute getting started video they shared with me, which I think gives you a bit of the flavour of what Wonda VR can offer:

If you’re interested and you want to learn more, check out the videos on their YouTube page.