Creating the VR metaverse

On Tuesday May 20th, at the SVVR conference in Mountain View, California, Second Life’s own Draxtor Despres (Bernard Drax, RL) hosted a panel discussion / Q&A session entitled Creating the VR Metaverse.

The panel comprised:

During the hour of the event, the panel discussed many aspects of the future of the metaverse, including identity and privacy, governance, whether the metaverse wile be a single entity or many, content portability, the user interface, and more, before answering questions from both Second Life and the real world audience.

The discussion was recorded and posted to You Tube, courtesy of Brian Hart. The following transcript is taken from the point at which the discussion started, after each of the participants  had been given the opportunity to introduce themselves.

L-to-R: Stafano Corazza, Josh Carpenter, Ebbe Altberg, Philip Rosedale, Tony Parisi (image: Ben Lang, The Road to VR)

As usual, please note that:

  • This is not a word-for-word transcript of the entire meeting. While all quotes given are as they are spoken in the audio, to assist in readability and maintain the flow of conversation, not all asides, jokes, interruptions, etc., have been included in the text presented here
  • If there are any sizeable gaps in comments from a speaker which resulted from asides, repetition, questions to others etc,, these are indicated by the use of “…”
  • Sound quality on the video is not ideal. There may therefore be the occasional misquote, although every effort has been taken to avoid this.

07:16 Bernard Drax (BD): Tony, you’ve been around for some time; what kind of deja-vu feeling is this, and what do you want to scream at these 23-year olds that are making the goggles?

07:34 Tony Parisi (TP): For those of you who don’t know my background, 23 years and three months ago I created this technology called VRML, virtual reality modelling language … I don’t teach VRML any more, but I’m still very passionate about it is a product for connected devices and connected experiences., which is why we got together to build that technology two decades ago.

the principle behind was, just like the other media that were getting sucked into the world-wide web, 3D would be a media type as part of that as well; you could use it to build visualisation, you could use it to create virtual worlds, you could use it to heal the sick, feed the poor, and a whole bunch of really cool things.

Back then I was your age, 23-year-olds or a little bit older. We were very excited, there’s a lot of deja-vu for me in this conference, because this conference has a lot of the energy of the first couple of VRML get-togethers. We didn’t know what wasn’t possible; we had all kinds of high hopes and dreams and of course, years into it, reality crashed into us. we learned a lot, but it was definitely a bit early to try to deploy virtual experiences back then.

The one take-away I will offer to everyone here, and its been a continued theme in my work… I’ve heard a lot about Unity, I’ve heard a lot about game engines, I’ve seen insane experiences; Unreal (Engine), those Kite guys, I can’t think of their name, mind-blowing, incredible production value … but don’t ignore the web.

One of Kite and Lightning’s remarkable AR films

If you want to build the metaverse of tomorrow, get out your JavaScript book, go get my web GML book, learn about all these open technologies, because my belief is, and has been for those two decades, that if it’s going to be a metaverse, it’s going to be an open one.

09:34 BD: Stefano … you guys make avatars that you can kind-of rig off-the-shelf, or you can go as deep as you want … Do you see yourself as the provider of that avatar identity that is portable, that I can pop to different verses, to other verses.

10:10 Stefano Corazza (SC): The main vision we have around one of our products, it’s called Fuse, is to enable people to create content that they want to bring to virtual worlds and VR experiences.

The last development that we have done was to make it a platform so people can import from real-world measurements. So we have now the ability of using Kinect, for example, to take a couple of scans of a person and then basically create themselves as a 3D model … and import into Fuse, and have automatically, 280 blend shapes to customise yourself. clothing, hairstyle and everything.

So we wanted to bridge the gap between reality capture and what you can do in an avatar creator, so we made an open avatar creator where you can create the 3D model using a laser scan or … Kinect, or a photo camera or whatever service is available … bring it I, and they we automatically get your facial blend shapes and body blend shapes all automatically applied, you have your clothing system. This way, once the whole customisation is done, your character is more valuable, because we have seen that people don’t really care to get the model of themselves in a leotard or naked … So you have the ability of putting all the clothing you want, you can design your own, you can augment yourself.

So once you have invested a lot of time in your character, and you have improved yourself, then it becomes more attractive and something you want to bring into as many virtual worlds and VR experiences as you like.

12:04 BD: I actually trademarked Draxtor Despres, my Second Life avatar. Would I then be able to complete own this avatar if I created it?

12:13 SC: Yes. If you are using your own content, it is completely yours.; you can even sell it. If you are using Mixamo content or third-party content, you can still use it in an embedded form, in your game or in your virtual worlds. You just can sell it.

12:37 BD: Josh, we talked just prior to the panel about the theoretical metaverse and how important openness is, and I suppose citizenship and sovereignty … If you could just lay out how important it is that the future metaverse, whatever it will be, is going to be a democracy rather than controlled by even a benevolent multi-national.

13:08 Josh Carpenter (JC): Sure. I mentioned I was on Firefox OS for two years, and what we were trying to do was take the web and a bunch of new APIs and let the web talk to hardware – make a phone call, send an SMS, send GPS, through a JavaScript API calls. We were trying to figure-out how you create a truly web platform. And one of the things I most excited about is I just want to kill the Install button. It should all just be open, that’s the web. What is “install”? It’s an abstraction, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. You see a game, you tap on it and you play it right away.

And the web is a really great platform for this, it’s the way it works right now. Thanks to Unity 5.0 export to WebGL and thanks to Unreal Engine’s export to WebGL, you have the ability to do plug-in free gaming in the browser with near native performance. Great, exciting.

But one of the consequences of this is it gets a bit scary when you get into ubiquitous computing. Because you’re walking down the street, and the thing about instance, installing content without install, is entirely promiscuous. So we’ve got to think really carefully, I think, about user sovereignty, about privacy, about security …

If you’re walking in a shopping mall in five years, and you’re walking past a store, does that store get to give you a cookie, a tracking cookie, because you walked past it? do you look behind yourself and see a string with a lot of little clanking cookie cans behind you, that goes 100 miles behind you? That’s the kind of reality that could happen if we’re not really smart about this.

We have the opportunity to think about this now, a year before the consumer hardware ships. So now is the time to have the conversation; not once it’s big, not once these reputations are set, not once the economics are in place.

Mozilla tried to change the existing paradigm, and it’s really hard. We’ve actually failed in a couple of different initiatives that just haven’t gone anywhere. Try convincing an advertiser to give up his meal.

But with VR and AR I think we have the conversation now, and we put in place, working with teams like High Fidelity, like Linden Lab, with Facebook, with Google, with Apple eventually, I imagine; have a conversation and figure-out the kind of values and the kind of morality you want to bake into the platform right from the start.

Watching the discussion at the LEA theatre (image: Daniel Voyager)

15:27 BD: Philip, how far away are we from actually going to a virtual shopping mall and having cookies behind us?

15:36 Philip Rosedale (PR): Well it’s interesting. I, too, am very passionate about and written a lot about identity and how I think that’s likely to work in the largest scale model of virtual reality or virtual worlds.

But it is interesting to note, Josh, that if you walk up to somewhere as an avatar … it’s rather easy to use the pattern recognition of your clothing or your appearance as a cookie for you. Even if we intentionally – which I think is the right design – never disclose your identity, I was just struck by the thought that it’s going to be quite easy to look at your avatar, if it has any degree of uniqueness and even if you change the colours a little bit to fool me, I … the merchant, could pretty easily tell who you are in a way that is somewhat different to the web browser that presents a vanilla log-in, basically, to a site. I wonder how we’ll deal with that? I’m just thinking out loud.

16:31 JC: One thing I’d say is, OK, let’s say that site has recognised me based on facial recognition, maybe there’s then a policy which says you do not have the right to do is to pass that information on to a second or third or fourth party.

Mozilla makes a plug-in called Collusion [now called Lightbeam]. What Collusion does is a visual top-down information graphic of all the trackers around you. You hit and you see the spider web, this interconnected web, ripple outwards as your tracker passes to another tracker passes to another tracker. And most of us aren’t aware of this, and users care, but they just don’t know enough about it. so I’d like there to be something in the VR / AR paradigm that puts users in control, that tells users, “you’ve been tracked, this is how your information is going to be used, you can opt out of it…” And maybe even you can benefit from it, you can actually profit from your information being used indirectly.

17:17 PR (to BD): You were asking me the time … I just wanted to go back and say, it’s not always five years ahead … Tony talked about VRML and what was happening in the early 90s. That was hard because we had modem [baud] rates and we had computers that couldn’t do 3D, and so it was extremely difficult. When I started Second Life … It was because two things did happen right at that time … One was the advent of broadband; we knew that broadband was going to make it; the second was the modern GPU, which really hit the market in 1999. Look at Second Life today; that’s what made that possible and I was able to start it then.

I would say that this year in particular, this is a disruptive moment which is the availability of all these sensor devices … The iteration loop that people are in now with these devices creates the opportunity to maybe move away from the mouse and the keyboard, and that’s a really weird moment. I’m not sure what’s going to happen over the next few years, but that wasn’t true three or four years ago.

We started High Fidelity to a large degree because we were playing with gyros, the same sensors, and we were, “I don’t know how these are going to net-out, but these things are crazy cool. They’re going to change the way we access these worlds.

18:40 BD: I want to bring Ebbe in, because Linden Lab is running an existing world that everyone I talk to in this VR resurgence tends to have a specific notion about Second Life which is somewhat limited, casinos, chat or dancing, and a lot of people don’t know the richness of the world … Ebbe, please remind folks how big this world is, and how vibrant it is.

19:28 Ebbe Altberg (EA): I think that thanks to the work Philip and others after him did, Second life reached a crescendo around 2006-08, where it was in the news that it was going to change everything, replace the Internet, and everything was going to totally change. And it was a little bit ahead of itself and it suffered a bit of a backlash because it didn’t deliver on the promise that somehow got spread about.

The fact is, though, that if you go look at what is going on in there today, it’s an incredible breadth and depth of creativity , and businesses and use cases from education to art to entertainment to gaming … And Drax is doing a great job of reporting on some of these incredible creators. And it’s all user-generated. Second Life today has over a petabyte worth of user-generated, virtual reality content, and a marketplace in-world that has a GDP in the hundreds of millions of dollars every year of people buying and selling stuff that they have created and want, to either make their personal avatar look cooler or better or more functional , or pay for experiences that other create for them …

So thank Oculus and Facebook for bringing us back to being part of the conversation again. We’ve been silently working for many years just to make it better. Second Life today is better than it has ever been. It’s more performance, higher quality, more capable, but we still have a long way to go.

As part of the metaverse conversation, I’m glad these guys are thinking about it a lot, I don’t think about it too much, because I think we still have a tonne of work to do to just make it a lot easier. It’s so difficult to use; a lot of people come to Second Life and want to use it, they get the idea of what it could be, and we do all kinds of things to prevent them from being successful users at the end of the day. It’s not that we’re doing it actively, it’s just that you have to learn and figure out a lot of things. Not just how to manoeuvre [but] how to make things, how to find the right community, and how to communicate to the right people; what does it mean, what can I do, what’s possible … the hurdle is just too much for most people. And that, I think is a problem we have to work a lot more on.

I’m glad that all these new gadgets and new capabilities and the interconnectedness is being discussed and moved forward as well, but I think the primary obstruction right now is just making it a lot easier for a lot more people to be able to come in and participate.

The panel and Bernard Drax (r) - image via Brian Hart / You Tube
The panel and Bernard Drax (r) – image via Brian Hart / You Tube

22:40 BD: I wanted to repeat what you said: we’re talking about a user-generated world, a world that is generated by users. That means some stuff is incredibly refined, some stuff is somewhat crude, but it’s find for the communities and the communities are there together, and they’re interacting and so on an so forth.

23:00 EA: This success of Second Life, which I think is incredible, I mean it is very profitable and it’s not just successful to us, it’s successful for a tremendous amount of users; we pay out tens of millions of dollars to the creators of these experiences. A lot of people make good money doing business in Second Life.

23:30 BD: It’s just awesome because it is created by users.

23:33 EA: Everything in Second Life is user-generated. We do a few things just to get you going, but everything you see in there, because of the openness, and I think that a lot of this is thanks to the philosophy of Philip, there’s this tremendous allowance of openness, to the point of being a bit crazy with the functionality we allow users to do, which not only enables some great things, but also enables some crazy things. People may have heard of these crazy people who want to interrupt everybody else with crazy scripts that do weird things. But it’s hard to enable …

24:10 TP: He’s talking about flying penises, everyone!  He was just trying to not say, “flying penis”, because then you would imagine it. Don’t think about a flying penis.

24:27 EA: But how do you tell the difference between flying birds and flying penises? It’s tough! So how do you allow the good without allowing for the bad? I think that’s part of the success of being so open, the tremendous amount of freedom; few others have dared to venture there.

25:02 BD: For me, as a non-gamer, to go to this conference, it’s a lot of awesome stuff, it’s a lot of eye candy, but it’s not the interconnected world that Philip was always talking about in the early days of Second Life and I know all you guys are really passionate about. So, Philip, you’re building it now. Are you going to be the benevolent dictator, are you going to be the OASIS [the virtual environment in Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One] ?

25:24 PR: No … I think practically to get beyond something like Second Life today … the sheer size and success of it strains the ability of the company to operate the entire thing. I think that if you look at the Internet, it’s very difficult to imagine a World Wide Web that was all served by Amazon or something like that. So I think it’s much more likely, practically speaking, that the architectural nature of the virtual worlds in a future where we’re all using them, meaning they scale-up by about three orders of magnitude from where we are today, to put it in perspective. That’s a lot, a factor of a thousand. Once we get up to that billion-sized scale, no doubt it’s going to be the interoperation of many different companies and individuals, so we do have to sort that out.

I think Ebbe’s right. My hope is that the ease of usage can be addressed to a certain extent by these new interface technologies that we have, and that’s going to make a big dent in it. And I couldn’t agree more … when I look back on Second Life the only thing that makes me just want to pound the table, is the mouse and the keyboard. I showed that little video [during his keynote address] of Ryan manipulating stuff … and it’s really hard.

26:48 SC: The two things I always see is, when people put on the Oculus, the first thing they do, they try to look at their own hands … then going back to the openness, I think the openness is something that’s really going to help all these experiences to spread. And I think one of the first virtual worlds to open to user-generated content was Second Life, the ability to add the meshes in. And once people create stuff, the engagement, and the level of satisfaction, it doesn’t really matter too much what the quality of the mesh is, but it is something you built, and people are experiencing this. And that’s incredibly rewarding.

We have lived for the last 10-20 years in w world where there are a bunch of incredible MMOs and virtual worlds and games, but they were all closed systems. It was really hard to create something and get it in there. And so instead, we’ve seen incredible success where people are either allowed user-generated content to come in, or even games like Team Fortress 2, where they were launched a long time ago, and with the modding community, they’ve lived a second life.

Josh Carpenter
Josh Carpenter (via SVVR)

28:10 JC: If I could jump in on that. One of my lines at work is that there is a generation of kids today who are creating 3D content, sharing it with their friends, there is an economic ecosystem growing up around it, and it’s Minecraft. And I really think the VR web ends-up looking something like Minecraft.

And the neat thing is, I look at Second Life, and I don’t know enough about High Fidelity, but if you know the Lego product line, you’ve got Technic and Mindstorm, and they’re a little more high-level and they’re a little more technical and you can do really crazy stuff with it, but the baseline is Lego.

Minecraft is actually more complicated than Lego, but we’ve got to figure-out what the Lego of the VR web is. Is there a declarative syntax where you can just say “sphere” or “image” or “movie” and you can do it if you’re 12-years old, and you can share it with your friend and there’s not gatekeeper. And then that 12-year-old goes on to write a JavaScript library six years later that’s way better than the one before, and it just keeps getting better and better and better. That’s the inherent strength of the web; it just has this self-improving, jungle hothouse of innovation mechanism behind it.

So I really want to figure out what is the easy building block that everyone can use.

29:28 BD: I have questions already from the Second Life audience. I collected them already over the course of the last week, and we’ll get to that later. I need to address the ownership question. Linden Lab was attacked from content creators for a change in [the] Terms of Service last summer, before you came in, Ebbe. and there was tremendous uncertainty: what rights do I have over my own creations. For me, this is the essence of what the metaverse is. That the creation, I own it, that I can take it with me, that I can monetise it in other platforms or worlds. Where do we stand with this.

30:13 EA: I’m completely behind the way people used to think about it, and I know that the current language is too aggressive, and is stressing some people out into thinking we have evil intent to somehow steal their content … That’s not our intent at all. The language was trying to make sure that we were protected, and obviously there are times when we have to do things to your content because your content is doing bad things to us or to others.

But there is no intent from us to steal or to be able to get value out of your content without your permission. So I’m working with legal counsels to fix the language and make it clear to you that your content is yours. we still have to have many rights to do things with the content, but there shouldn’t be any doubt that it belongs to you.

31:32 BD: Now if we go further, then, in the future metaverse with different companies providing different metaverses … Second Life is often criticised as this walled garden, how do we create openness? how do we ensure that I have my own stuff? I mean I don’t even have to go to Second Life. I can go to my 74-year-old father who is a very smart man, who goes nuts about CDs still. That CD, he can’t copy it over here, and he can’t have it over there? It’s a loaded question.

Tony Parisi (via SVVR)
Tony Parisi (via SVVR)

32:12 TP: Very loaded. And I’ve been contemplating this recently in event of this panel. look at the 2D web today, social nets today, and they are walled gardens, even though they are running on open web technology. Your Facebook information doesn’t transport easily to your G+ and vice-versa. Whole businesses have been built – like Facebook – around this whole idea of creating a network of fact and then essentially locking you in; to putting that information in one place and not making it easy for you to get it out.

If I had to pundit predict on this, I going to guess the same thing is going to happen in the VR metaverse. I don’t believe you can get the stakeholder lined-up to be supporting the idea that the ID, that thing you’ve invested really heavily in, can be transported in any way. Yeah, you may be able to move your mesh data around, your character gestures, but the actual important information about you, I think everyone is interested in owning and controlling that, and that’s going to be true in the VR metaverse as well.

33:20 EA: It’s not necessarily just for business reasons, it’s also really hard to come up with something that’s uniform across … you might be racing towards lowest common denominator to make things work across all things. Especially in our business, where we’re still so early, there’s so much innovation and change that we need to be able to do quickly, and then if you have to constantly be fully compatible with everything around you, it could slow things down.

33:48 TP: Disagree. I think technically it’s hard, but it’s not insoluble if you have the motivation. I just think the people at the table don’t have the motivation. No-one wants to go out of their way to let people share that information. It’s not in anyone’s best interest to make that effort, to make it easy and seamless. If it was, and if it was good business, people would make the technical effort to solve these interoperability problems.

34:13 EA: Yeah, they can be solved, I’m just saying you have to decide where to spend your energy. I’d rather spend the energy right now on usability and making something that lots of people can use. Then, over time, if we can be more interoperable, then great. But if I start with interoperability, then I’m not going anywhere, because no-one can still use it.

34:31 TP: What if the government told you [that] you had to do it?

34:35 EA: I’d be upset!

34:39 BD: Josh, we talked earlier too, you said maybe the order has to be reversed … the governance question, is it related to interoperability, or how is it related and what is the order of things? That first and then usability or both at the same time, or is there an order?

35:00 JC: To Philip’s point, I can’t help it, I’m an interaction designer primary, by trade, so I can’t help but be really fascinated by how the hell we do user log-in without a keyboard. Or a URL? No-one’s going to type-in if you have a headset on and you can’t see anything.

The gentleman in the very excellent input panel yesterday was pointing out that it may be a short-term problem. VR becomes transparent pretty quickly, whether it’s because of cameras or because the display technology literally become transparent, then maybe we can get back to typing things in. Or maybe in the interim we’re just using voice input or we just design around the problem. Like in video games systems, you don’t type a lot in with the D-pad, right? It sucks.

So from a HCI standpoint, I’m evangelising VR to all my HCI colleagues, saying like, “this is the web, baby, and you guys are all print designers. You’d better get on board with this, you’d better start paying attention to the game designers and the visual effects guys, because they’ve got the talent and they’ve got the tools and they’ve got the IP, and they’re about to kick your ass … I’m kind-of going down a side alley here …

35:58 JC: On the governance thing quickly, I think it depends on the tech stack. If my operating system is sold to me by a Facebook, there is a bit of a conflict of interest there, and it’s a little bit scary. If the operating system is sold to me by an Apple, and it’s removed from one of several services I use, Twitter, Facebook, etc., it looks more like the current paradigm, I don’t think there’s much to worry about. It’s when you’ve got a vertical stack of your identity, your operating system and your hardware all from one manufacturer, and their business model is based on you being the product, then I get chills.

And I think there are companies that are going to do this, and one of the reasons we’re trying to get the word out on having this conversation now is I think it’s going to slow adoption of the technology, if you’re buying from Google and from Facebook. You’ve seen the Glass push back. you saw the outcry … when Oculus got bought by Facebook. People intuitively know it’s getting a little bit creepy when they own that much stuff.

I think part of that can be overcome, this is as a social conversation we have when any new technology hits the street; there’s some fear and some uncertainty to be overcome, but I think it’s in the best interests of these companies, Google and Facebook in particular, to engage with foundations like EFF, Mozilla and with the user community to actually have a community and put in place standards and transparency and interoperability from the get-go.

37:17 BD: A user question: Why should I not be afraid of the Facebook metaverse? Talk about identity, Philip, because you had a great blog post about identity, and that might be a very irrational nightmare that I have is that if the Facebook model were to be applied; there’s a spoof video online, people have their names over their heads and ads are constantly ad are being piped into the thing while you’re playing a shooter game. Is that what they’re going to build, or are they aware that their model is not embraced by everyone?

38:04 EA: I tend to be somewhat optimistic in that people won’t use things that they don’t like or they tend to use things that they do like. I think there’s only so far you can go in being evil or in doing the wrong thing and get away with it. So I trust the judgement of most of us here to choose the things that work or do the right thing and choose not to use the things that don’t. I tend not to get too worked-up about conspiracy theories of how somebody’s going to be evil to all of us. I’m also glad there are opposing forces to some of the ones that have power and trying to take it a little bit too far and test that boundary and there’s push back, and I think that push back is natural; I think it would be tough for anyone, with so much going on to be able to ultimately take it too far and put us all in some dire situation.

38:58 SC: And we still have diversity and the Internet and all these worlds are fluid, so if the experience is now at a point you don’t like, you can migrate to another one. And there are some points of inertia. You have a bunch of people on the same social network, you’re more encouraged to stay there. but at the same time, I think people are becoming more and more vocal; they feel more and more that they own that platform, because they are in there and spending so much time there. So I think those are natural forces in a very evolutionary way to actually push the maker, the engineering force to actually shape it in a way where there’s no evil.

39:40 TP: I’m kind-of with Ebbe. I think there’s a little conspiracy theory going on here. People tend to read a lot into what happened with this acquisition, and try to connect the dots and say, “well if Facebook bought this hardware that’s going to suck us all into virtual reality, they must be planning something really nefarious.”

But I think the fact of the matter is that I think Facebook saw an exciting new piece of technology, they need to diversity, get into new lines of business; they’re probably not even sure what they’re going to do with it long-term. There’s lots of vision kicking around, but it’s very early in the absorbing of that acquisition.

You look at Google’s acquisition of Nest, you try and read something into that, “oh no, I turned my thermostat up, I’m now going to get spammed with ads for going to the Bahamas!” … Probably not. They’re just getting into a new line of hardware business because they’re expanding. [It’s] the same with Facebook.

Clearly, there are some synergies that are possible there, and some evil outcomes that may happen from it, but I just think people are reading way too much into this.

40:39 BD: That question has a little conspiracy tint to it … I do use Facebook and I see in Second Life that I profile who have such a tremendous benefit by having freedom of identity with their avatar and how they express themselves, and Facebook doesn’t provide it. I know everybody says you don’t have to use Facebook, but Facebook is a dominant force, and that’s something that I do think we need to talk about, if the metaverse, like the OASIS, is owned by this one entity that can force on us how we should interact and how we should deal with identity.

41:19 PR: Yeah, we’ve been thinking about this very practically. I agree, I agree, there are tremendous market forces. We do, as new users, as early adopter, we will do exactly what we want, or somebody else will build a different product, and we’ll use that. We’ve been thinking just very practically about the next stage in virtual worlds, and thinking, “OK, well what’s the actual plumbing and code we need to write to actually make this work.

The only things I was trying to say in my writings about this is the web is an anonymous thing, because it’s mainly information retrieval, historically. We go to a website to read information and then we follow a hyperlink, but … when Tony goes to a website, he doesn’t show-up as Tony Parisi with this pants and shirt on. He doesn’t need to; he’s a pair of eyes that are looking at the website.

When you use a virtual world, inevitably what’s great about a part of it is that you are actually there as a person, as some sort of identity, as a visual identity. all we’ve been thinking through is, what does that mean? What it means is, you’re not going to somebody else’s website that you’ve never seen before, and have your name float above your head. You’re also not going to probably want even a cookie, if at all possible or you can negotiate that exchange, especially with a place you don’t know; you wouldn’t give me information until you understood me better.

So what’s going to happen with virtual worlds is the same thing; we’re going to have to have this tiered layer of securities and certifications just like with visiting a website where you want to pay for something, you get asked, challenged by the site itself, “hey you can only come in here if you give me this piece of information about yourself.” You can say no and not go there, or you can say, “OK, I’ll give you this information.” Almost nobody is going to make you float your name over your head; that doesn’t make sense, a basic form of greeting, again if you’re in the billion person sense, is “Hi, my name is Philip, what’s yours?” “My name is Tony…” That’s part of what we do when we meet each other, and we’ve just been thinking through the practicalities of this, and I wrote a little bit about it.

I really liked what you said, Josh, actually trying to actively negotiate with people in that shared set of virtual worlds and not forwarding these inevitable cookies. I mean cookies are inevitable, computers are smart enough to do this to us already. In a virtual world, it’s going to be super simple, in the same way, I guess, that you can remember people’s faces when they walk into your shop. So I love the idea of not letting a shopkeeper in the real world forwarding a bunch of video information about what you’re doing in a shop. We’d all go crazy if that were true, and I suppose we will in the virtual world too, and push people away from doing that.

44:01 SC: I think there’s a biological parallel that can be done. You go into a place with a lot of germs and microbes, you have a response of your immune system and survive, or you have to take medicines. So here, in the same way, if you go to a virtual mall and it’s spamming you with cookies and everything, well, probably you’ll never go there again, or there will be third-parties who will sell you “invisibility code” that you plug-in to your browser to stop all this stuff. So it’s competition between offence and defence, and usually just the user experience   is basically driving and imposing a good equilibrium between the two that gets established between shorter periods of imbalance.

44:54 JC: I will say … I’m not that optimistic; coming from a user experience background, privacy and security in user experience design is really tricky. Because the UXer in me wants to reduce the friction to nothing, “don’t interrupt them with a permissions prompt! Why would you want to do that? Just use the mapping data.” But then the other part of me is, “No, no, no, no, no. You’ve got to give them the choice to opt out of it, you’ve got to make sure they understand what the heck the information is doing.” Two really basic things.

So I think it’s tricky. Tech is complicated and life is complicated and life is busy. My Mum is not going to understand that this browser uses her personal information, this one doesn’t … I think at some point, we together in the tech industry have to get together and have to think about the kind of world we want to create and make smart choices for our users and then build good products.

I guess the question is … how many people would use Firefox over Chrome is they knew Firefox had better privacy policies, but Chrome was 10% faster? where do you rank your privacy and security on a sliding scale, especially if the consequences of privacy and security are very opaque, but you feel the speed every time you hit a page. It’s really hard …

But one thing I will say is, it’s really under-estimated how much advertising has given to the rise of the modern web; so I don’t want to denigrate it too much. It really has been the economic backbone of so much we take for granted, all this creativity, all this cool stuff out there. If you like Tumblr, Tumblr’s powered by ads …

So we’ve got to find a way to be pro-commercial and pro-economic opportunities and then find a balance between that and user sovereignty as well.

47:13 BD: What place does OpenSim have now in the metaverse conversation? Does anybody want to talk about OpenSim? So what you’re building, is that going to be what Hypergrid is trying to be with OpenSim?

47:40 PR: Yes, I hope that we can elegantly solve and really propagate some of the types of things folks using multiple connected simulator grids are trying to solve. As with everything, the business relevance here is that there’s got to be enough of us with enough of these interconnected worlds to make it make sense, to really connect them together. And I think that’ll happen soon, and I think we’ll have to elegantly solve these problems of identity, authentication and market places and transporting goods – we haven’t even talked about that … That’s yet another, somewhat separate interesting thing. If I bought this car from Ebbe in this one location, and I want to take my car and use it somewhere else, how does that work?

48:53 BD: I know this is primarily about gaming, and everybody here is a gamer, except for me. but how would you pitch this to somebody other than a gamer? Why do I need this? Why do I need virtual reality? Why do I want it?

49:12 PR: Because there are people there … I always tell the story that when I started Second Life, my passion was very much the Lego blocks … and still is. Let us re-do the laws of physics in some simplistic manner – and VRML was in some ways like this as well – let’s come up with some building blocks which are cool enough and rich enough that we can build amazing things with them, and then let’s see what everybody builds. Let’s let them go do it. That’s absolutely something that I was and am very passionate about.

But what I kind-of learned along the way, I think, and I learned about myself was, ultimately, those worlds are a space between people. They are ultimately a catalyst or a tool for communication amongst people. And what I’d say about games is … look, when we get this Oculus out in the marketplace, we’re going to put this thing on, and we’re going to place Call of Duty until we run out of food. It’s going to be crazy.

But after about a month or whatever of doing this, we’re going to pull this thing up and put it on our foreheads and say, “Where are all the people, and how can I get a job here and what do I do next? How do I change this place? How do I make my mark on it?” And those are the questions that will ultimately answer what the work of ourselves and you guys and everybody here. We’ll need to build the real virtual worlds for that. But I think the simple answer is, it’s where the people are. Real communication with other people happens in these spaces, and that’s what we’re all about.

[50:50 At this a segment of a conversation between Draxtor and Patricia from segment #8 of The Drax Files Radio Hour is played, in which he tries to convince Pamela, a non-SL user of the value of virtual worlds – and she ain’t buyin’.]

53:52 BD: This is the user, and the reason why I played this is because, Phillip, the first time I heard you speak at the SLCC 2007, you said a billion users, Brendan from Oculus said a billion users. This is the user. It’s irrelevant what age she is…

54:07 TP: I think it’s a billion minus one…

54:15 EA: I think when we get a lot better, she’ll join in to. We’re just not good enough yet.

Stefano Corazza (via SVVR)
Stefano Corazza (via SVVR)

54:21 SC: It was an interesting dialogue because you were focusing on what you can do in this place, but I don’t think that’s why she will switch over in the end. I think it boils down to emotion. Her life is structured in a way, and her education, who she is and so on, that she’s seeking a different type of emotions or to get those emotions in a different way than maybe a 10-year-old playing Call of Duty on the Oculus.

I think there are many more experiences that we can be exposed to using VR … So there’s going to be a completely new generation of VR experiences that will actually matter to a bigger audience because they will make them feel something special.

56:06 BD: If High Fidelity is successful at becoming the 3D internet will or can Second life evolve to adapt to High Fidelity’s underlying protocols or will it remain a separate antiquated virtual world? Could Linden Lab see an opportunity to develop new applications that allow experienced SL Users to build in HiFi the way they do in SL?

56:23 EA: I think Philip and I and our crews will compete, and we’ll collaborate and we’ll do a lot of things that are maybe similar things in different ways. we’ll share some advice and learnings with each other. We’re still so early, the more we can help each other, it’s going to lift all boats. So I’m not too worried about it; we touch base quite often, and I’m sure there’s some things that we’re going to do that’s going to be helpful to Philip, and vice-versa.

We’re still in early trying to do next generation stuff, both of us, and I think if we try to work too much together, two start-ups trying to collaborate too much together, VCs would say it’s not a good thing for start-ups to be collaborating too much too early. But we’ll stay in touch…

57:56 BD: Is Second Life a perpetual start-up?!

57:28 EA: I would stay Second Life is still a start-up.

57:35 BD: A major benefit of a virtual world is the community of the physically disabled are on an equal basis with other residents in-world. They can fly, they can walk. Almost 20% of the real life population is permanent disabled, the percentage of virtual worlds is higher. the new technology developments [which] are being hyped involve the use of our physical bodies … does the future of the metaverse involve turning our backs on those who benefit so much now?

Ebbe Altberg (via SVVR)
Ebbe Altberg (via SVVR)

58:04 EA: No, no. There might be some new experiences that a disabled person would not be able to participate in, but I hope we don’t leave them behind by cutting off their access and their ability to participate.

58:21 BD: I guess she was saying is somebody specifically working on hardware devices that would benefit the disabled?

58:40 PR: One of my friends is a neuroscientist and we did a presentation where we showed suing a live EEG to look at the brain. Technology’s going to continue to develop stuff like that to give people who are disabled even more access, and the technologies we use already to access virtual worlds are not going to go anyway, they’re only going to get better.

58:59 BD: But it’s also a market-driven thing. Disabled people don’t have that big a voice…

59:05 PR: The disabled community has been one of the huge communities that’s been served by and active within, Second Life. I always found that incredibly empowering and delightful and I know Ebbe does, so I mean, no changes.

59:23 audience question: I have to congratulate Second Life for the fact that you always had a large number of women who were part of your audience. And I’ve experienced here, “well, where are the women?” So I’m curious to know what would you guys offer as a solution to bringing more women into the VR space as both developers and as consumers?

59:55 EA: Philip sent me an article like a week ago about women sort-of climbing the ladders in the corporate world. And I had the same sense to, that Second Life has a really high female proportion. I don’t have current statistics … there’s some combination of entrepreneurship, the creativity, there’s some mix that definitely attracts a female audience to Second Life, which is great. I/m not sure what you’re asking… how we make it even more?

1:00:34 questioner: Well, what about the metaverse of the future, being we know that Second Life isn’t capturing the full thing that we’re trying to envision here. One of the reasons we’re here at SVVR is to try to develop the future, so how do we include more women in that future?

1:00:50 TP:  Not talking about this too much publicly yet, but I’m kicking around the idea of starting another start-up … one of my main goals is going to be to have several women co-founders as part of it. It’s a very reverse sexist statement, but I’ve been thinking about this a lot for the last six months; I don’t know how you do this well without having a gender-balanced executive team., otherwise you don’t have people representing half of the population.

1:01:40 PR: Yeah, but to summarise what Ebbe said, and to say it more loudly, one of the remarkable things that was statistically true, and we haven’t looked at this stuff for years, but when there were still tonnes of people still inside Second Life, is that women were using Second Life disproportionately more than men, even though men were signing-up more than women. Women anecdotally were also the entrepreneurial leaders inside Second Life in a curious way you could study more in a documentary way …

I personally believe after years of looking at this, it is unsurprising that we are seeing women take command of companies of certain types and sizes now. I believe this is an inherent network effect, it is something that is happening inevitably, as a result of technology empowering the management style and the approach that women take in running companies. And that’s extremely fascinating to watch happening.

Virtual worlds, by their very nature, by being highly connected and being even less gender respecting with respect to abilities, will only speed-up that change …

1:03:52 audience question: We were talking a lot about ownership of content in the metaverse, and I think that one of the most striking differences of content ownership between virtual worlds and the real world is the fact that the real world has tonnes and tonnes of public domain content, it is everywhere … and we can exploit that to create derivative works very easily. Virtual worlds, on the other hand, pretty much somebody own everything to some extent. So trying to build those derivative works in a way that respects everybody’s rights is this huge issue of trying to get permission for all the relevant people. How do you envision dealing with that?

1:04:46 EA: I don’t know how much content is claimed or owned … I mean it’s created by somebody, but I’m not sure … there’s a lot of free content …

1:04:54 questioner: To be clear, there is a copyright holder of all that content.

Philip Rosedale (via SVVR)
Philip Rosedale (via SVVR)

1:05:06 PR: We did make sure that we gave into the public domain a great deal of content in the beginning. now of course, Second Life is a lot bigger, so statistically you’re going to find stuff with people’s names on it. I think your point is well-made …

In High Fidelity one of the things we’re thinking about is that it would be very easy to leave something in the public domain and then build other things from it, which is exactly derivative works, which is why it is important, and we are thinking about that. It’s just being smart about it.

Does a rock in the wilderness need to have a name attached to it? that’s one of the things we’re thinking about right now. I think the answer is no, if you do things right. But it’s a difficult problem, you’ve really got to think that through.

1:05:50 SC: I think it’s more a problem of portability, because the ownership at the end, someone owns the servers that are simulating that world, right? So those are the ultimate owners of it. I think portability is interesting when you can take content that is run on some servers and then take it into another virtual world that is running on different servers owned by different people. So through portability you establish your ownership of the content. because if they allow you to take it out, it means that you own it.

1:06:44 audience question: Josh had brought up the point earlier about there being language to create a sphere or whatever. The answer to that is yes. If you haven’t heard of X3DOM, which is based on X3D, which is based on something Tony is rather familiar with … It’s an open community, it’s open-source and I think they’d value all of your input to bring it up to today’s standards, it’s still about a year behind, technologically. I was wondering if any of you had explored that, and what Tony has to say about it.

1:07:23 TP: I think we’re a couple of days shy of me world premiering this I call GLAM, for GL And Mark-up … It’s basically just a prototype of 3D mark-up text and rendering in WebGL, CSS for the styling and animation. Seems like a really promising area of future research.

I mean, it’s ironic, as that’s where I started in this 20 years ago, with a mark-up language for 3D. But so much has changed under the covers during this time, the browser architectures; there’s a DOM now, there’s JavaScript, when we were working on this in 1994 there were neither.

So I’m really excited about it because at the moment, in the web world, the way that you create even a cube is to write about 40 lines of JavaScript, which seems bizarre when you should just be able to say, “angle bracket, cube, close angle bracket”, like the way X3D does.

1:08:37 audience question: For 50 years we’ve successfully moved from paper to computers. We have icons and windows and all kinds of great ways to almost obsolete paper. but we all know here in this room that 3D and 3D processors are a better way to display information, but no-one’s made a users interface that’s been really successful … where is this? Has anyone proposed anything better than mapping 2D document on surfaces? where are we going here?

1:09:12 JC: There’s been a lot of efforts. Remember BumpTop? [It] was a thing 10 years ago .. you dragged icons around, you bumped them, you had physics. There have been attempts to do it. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on it, but as an HIC nerd, I’ve seen a couple come and go.

The BumpTop environment on Windows (via Wikipedia)

1:09:27 audience questioner: But here we are, attempting to say we should all go into a Second Lifey kind of thing; you know General Magic had the little PDA with the little neighbourhood – nobody wanted that. To deal with information, you want to deal with information. There’s got to be a paradigm that uses these better displays that we all believe in and know are going to replace our PDA or big screens, to deal with real stuff.

1:09:50 JC: Here’s what I want, for all you developers out there. I live in Photoshop, I do a lot of Photoshop and I’m energetic and I’m kinetic when I work, and then all my creativity is constipated into this little mouse and keyboard paradigm, I’m stuck in my stupid chair or maybe a standing desk. I want to make Photoshop like Jirō or Hiro make sushi. Craft has always been kinetic; you pick it up, you move it …

And the thing that I’m most excited about VR is that the revolutions that you guys are creating in input matched with the amazing stuff that the mobile industry has bequeathed us in the form of consumer-friendly, viable haptic displays means that someday, you could be working outside like Monet painting water lilies in the garden, and you will be creating content in a kinetic, fully fluid, very human kind-of way. And we won’t be constipated under fluorescent lights with keyboards and mice any more.

1:10:50 BD: That’s a nice not to end on, and that will happen in five years, I think we have that date! Thank you so much, panellists.

3 thoughts on “Creating the VR metaverse

  1. I have to tell you that I disagree with what Stefano Corazza (SC) said at 10:10 above.
    “we have seen that people don’t really care to get the model of themselves in a leotard or naked … “

    We are born nude in reality, we should also be born nude in virtual reality.

    In virtual reality, I want to be “ME”. I want other people around the world to recognize me, when they see me in real life, they will stop me and say, hey there’s a guy that looks just like you in this virtual reality game I’ve been playing.

    That starts with a naked image of me (then enhanced a bit by me, of course), and stored somewhere so that I can use the same avatar everywhere I go.

    My current avatar was made from searching the SL’s web, market place. I had to go through about 85,000 results, to find the one body that I could modify and use, then other searches for the rest of me, body parts, hair… Finally I have an avatar close to the real me, enhanced a bit.

    This would have been so much easier, if there was a way to scan my naked body, make a few enhancements, and put the avatar directly in VR, forever.


    1. “That starts with a naked image of me (then enhanced a bit by me, of course), and stored somewhere so that I can use the same avatar everywhere I go.”

      I think that’s actually Stefano’s point, that we’re not satisfied with ourselves as we are, so we want to enhance, add, stylise, just “a bit”, or perhaps “a lot”, it’s down to personal choice.


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