Drax’s Our Digital Selves Documentary is Now Available to Watch on YouTube

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Cody Lascala and Donna Davis at Linden Lab headquarters in San Francisco (still from the documentary Out Digital Selves)

Earlier this month, I had written about Draxtor Despres (a.k.a Bernhard Drax) and his documentary on the experiences of people with disabilities in virtual worlds, titled Our Digital Selves: My Avatar Is Me. Drax interviewed 13 people with a variety of disabilities for this film. Among the locations which Drax visited for this documentary were the corporate offices of High Fidelity and Linden Lab (the latter is the company behind the Second Life and Sansar platforms).

Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day,  the purpose of which is to is to get everyone talking, thinking and learning about digital (web, software, mobile, etc.) access/inclusion and people with different disabilities. So Drac decided to release his documentary today, instead of tomorrow as he had originally intended!

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I was able to watch a preview of this documentary, and I enjoyed it very much! I think you will too.

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Universal Translators in Virtual Worlds and Social VR Spaces

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Image by Tumisu on Pixabay

你好! What language has the most irregular verbs?

I’ll answer that at the end of this blogpost, but first I wanted to talk a bit about languages and virtual worlds.

Virtual worlds such as Second Life attract people from all around the world, who might not speak the same language as each other. (The Second Life website itself is available in English, Japanese, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Turkish and Russian.) Automatic translator software (such as this popular item on the SL Marketplace, which works with Google Translate) is often used to bridge the language gap between users chatting in Second Life.

But text chat is not used as often as voice chat in the newer social VR spaces such as Sansar and High Fidelity. Waverly Labs has already created an earpiece called the Pilot, which fits inside your ear to translate foreign languages in real-time, much like the babel fish in Douglas Adams’ science fiction novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In my opinion, it’s really only a matter of time until this sort of technology makes it into social VR platforms.

(A related challenge is to provide voice-to-text conversion so that, for instance, a deaf person can participate in social VR discussions. Thankfully, this is already commonly available using software such as the Dragon line of products. It just needs to be integrated with the various client software used to navigate the newer metaverse products.)

Seamless communication between people of all languages may be coming sooner than you think! 再见!


And now the answer to the question I posted at the start of this blogpost: according to this discussion thread on the WordReference forums, the language with the highest number of irregular verbs is Latin—or perhaps Portuguese.

Virtual Paradise: A Brief Introduction

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Virtual Paradise is another virtual world, very similar to Active Worlds (in fact, the client software looks almost identical). This morning I had a short tour of Virtual Paradise conducted by Edwin, who is the programmer who runs VP. He helped me set up my avatar. I decided to pick a Star Wars stormtrooper look:

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He and I chatted for a bit while standing in their City Hall:

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Virtual Paradise is a lot like Active Worlds, only less busy. Only three (non-bot) avatars were signed in while I was there. Edwin built it because he loves virtual worlds and he wanted to explore the challenges of building one!

Yet another virtual world to add to my list

My Predictions For The Next Two Years

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Photo by Wyron A on Unsplash

I’ve been hanging around virtual worlds of one kind or another for over a decade now. I’ve seen them come and go. Some were spectacular failures that provided lessons for other companies. Others just kind of meander along, not attracting very many users or ever becoming very big (like the multitude of OpenSim-based grids).

What usually happens in today’s hyper-competitive computer applications marketplace, is that one or two players in a particular market segment get big (e.g. Microsoft, MySpace, Facebook, and yes, in its own way, Second Life), and then continue to grow like a juggernaut, based on the network effect, while the smaller players in the marketplace fight each other over the leftovers. The ones who get big are usually, but not always, the early entrants into the field (Second Life is a prime example of that, although there were notable virtual worlds which were founded before it, like ActiveWorlds).

But social VR and virtual worlds are not a zero-sum game. Many consumers are frequent visitors to a number of different metaverse platforms, and many creators build and sell products in various virtual worlds. Right now, success in one VR-capable virtual world (e.g. VRChat) generates interest in other social VR spaces. As they say, “A rising tide lifts all boats”.

It’s still not clear where all this is going, but I’m willing to polish my crystal ball and make a few predictions of what will happen over the next two year period, from now until April 2020.

What I predict will happen, over the next two years, is that one of the Big Five computer companies:

  • Alphabet/Google
  • Amazon
  • Apple
  • Facebook/Oculus*
  • Microsoft

Is either going to launch their own social VR/virtual world/metaverse product, OR is going to buy one of the Big Four metaverse-building companies:

  • High Fidelity
  • Linden Lab (Second Life and Sansar)
  • Sine Wave Entertainment (Sinespace)
  • VRChat

(We’ve already seen this happen with Microsoft’s purchase of AltspaceVR.) We could also see a company buy out a virtual world, just to grab the programming talent, and then shut the world down completely (as Yahoo! did with the promising Cloud Party).

Now, there’s no guarantee that any of the Big Four companies WANT to be bought out by the Big Five. Perhaps instead of a buyout, a strategic partnership deal will be inked. But I bet you anything that it’s tempting for the bigger companies to buy their way into the evolving metaverse marketplace, rather than design something from scratch.

I also predict that a LOT of the new virtual world/social VR startups we see popping up are going to fail over the next two years. There’s a lot of virtual-reality-related (and especially blockchain-related) hype taking place, and some people are investing in startups that are risky. Some smaller companies have jumped into grand virtual world-building projects without realizing the sheer magnitude of the work involved in creating a fully-featured, viable metaverse. I’m afraid that some investors are going to get burned.

I also predict that Sinespace and VRChat are going to pull ahead in terms of features, simply because they decided to build on top of the popular Unity game engine, and they can use all the cool Unity development tools that are popping up. By comparison, feature development on Sansar will be slower as they continue work in-house on their own engine.

And finally, I expect that Second Life’s 15th anniversary celebrations will entice some former users to dust off their old accounts and revisit the platform to see what’s new. It may well herald a renaissance for SL! At the very least, it will help stave off a slow decline in SL’s user concurrency figures.

*Sorry, but as I have said before, Facebook Spaces is not a palatable social VR/virtual world product. It can’t even come close to competing against what High Fidelity, Second Life, Sinespace and VRChat are currently doing. But I bet you anything that Facebook has other plans up their sleeve. They can still try to leverage off their 2-billion-plus Facebook network (not to mention 800 million Instagram users) to become a potential major disruptor in the evolving metaverse marketplace. I’m not counting them out yet!