High Fidelity raises a further US $35million funding

High Fidelity, the social VR company established by Philip Rosedale, has netted a further US $25 million in venture capital in a block D round of funding.

The funding was led by Blockchain investment firm Galaxy Digital Ventures (US $20 million), along with Blockchain Capital, Vulcan Capital, Breyer Capital, and IDG Capital Partners. The funding round marks a further investment point for Vulcan Capital, the company founded by former Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. In 2014, the company led a block C round of investment in High Fidelity that raised US $11 million for the company. As a part of the investment by Galaxy Digital Venture, co-founder Sam Englebardt will join the High Fidelity board of directors.

We’re happy to announce today that we have raised $35M in a new round of investment led by Galaxy Digital, with additional participation from Blockchain Capital, as well as our existing investors. This round brings the total investment in High Fidelity to more than $70M and will enable us to substantially increase R&D and Hiring.

Part of the High Fidelity announcement of the block D investment round

The involvement of companies particularly focused on blockchain technology is perhaps indicative of High Fidelity’s own promotion and use of blockchain technology. In late 2017, the company announced its blockchain-enabled currency and IP protection plans, which was followed at the end of 2017  and early 2018 by the deployment of their commerce tools, currency and Digital Assets Rights (DAR) capabilities.

Sam Englebardt co-founder and Head of Strategic Partnerships at Galaxy Digital led the company’s $20 million investment in High Fidelity, and joins HiFi’s board. Via everpedia

These tools and capabilities mean that High Fidelity users actually own the digital goods they buy, tying the goods directly to their digital persona. A key factor with the system is that it is completely decentralised, providing a high degree of redundancy and security.

As well as working directly on blockchain technology for their own platform, High Fidelity has also been the prime mover behind the Virtual Reality Blockchain Alliance (VRBA), a group of early adopter companies aiming to let users’ avatars move freely between platforms and bring their blockchain-linked purchases with them.

This broad-based approach to using blockchain technology  for things like asset management, rights management  and tracking, authentication, etc., as well as for management digital currency flow and exchange within the domain of virtual environments, is the thing that has investors excited as it offers a means of testing the kind of blockchain capabilities that could have far-reaching impact on our ability to interact and do business with one another through digital means (directly and corporately).

Virtual reality may be the first killer app for blockchain. It’s a global phenomenon that fundamentally requires a trustless consensus mechanism for currency, property and identity Ventures. That’s what the new generation of blockchain protocols like EOS enable, and High Fidelity has the vision, team and open platform to lead the worldwide transition from atoms to bits.

Sam Englebardt, founding partner of Galaxy Digital Ventures

In the meantime, with Second Life turning over around Us $700 million a year in transactions, Philip Rosedale doubtless has an eye on the potential of a whole new, and broad-based virtual currently capability – particularly as he sees a market of a billion people in around a decade’s time, engaged in VR spaces to socialise share, create, buy, sell, learn, and so on.

Even without the potential for blockchain outside of these virtual spaces, the $72 million so far invested in High Fidelity seems to suggest people are persuaded by his views and ideas – and the care with which High Fidelity is building-out its back-end systems to achieve their aims, rather than focusing on glossy front-end capabilities which can so often be a focus of user wants, is also perhaps testament to their determination to present a global platform.

High Fidelity recently launch a VR tour of Nefertari’s tomb from ancient Egypt, and experience that somewhat echoes Sansar’s Voyages Live experiences. Credit: High Fidelity

Which is not to say the company is solely focused on back-end work. Recently, HiFi has been promoting a range of new experiences to demonstrate the broad-based social capabilities of High Fidelity, some of which echo moves by Linden Lab with Sansar. These include:

  • Nefertari: Journey to Eternity by CuriosityStream — students and adults enter an Egyptian tomb captured in 3D for a guided tour led by an Egyptologist (not unlike Sansar’s Voyages Live: Egypt experiences and activities)
  • Speaker Series — join the audience in an auditorium for discussions with prominent thought leaders.
  • RUST — a nightclub with live performances from DJs and an audience of people from around the world.

With thanks to Loki Eliot for the pointer.

Note: image of Sam Englebardt updated after K. Jewel pointed out that the initial image was incorrect.

 

 

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Commerce in High Fidelity

It’s been a while since I last looked at High Fidelity, however, there have been a number of developments on Philip Rosedale’s VR platform over the last several months, specifically related to the last HF subject I blogged about: currency and IP protection.

In August 2017, Rosedale wrote two blog posts on the company’s currency and IP protection roadmap, setting out plans to use a blockchain-based crypto-currency – the High Fidelity Coin (HFC). Since then, they’ve issued a series of blog posts tracking their ideas and developments towards building a blockchain centric currency / IP management capability.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, the attraction of blockchain systems is both their “openness” and their security. In short and simply put, a blockchain can be thought of as a completely decentralised database duplicated across the Internet, with the information held on it both immediately shared and reconciled across all instances of the database after any transaction, anywhere, any time. It is almost entirely self-managed, with nodes on the network of databases acting as “administrators” of the entire system.

All of this makes a blockchain environment transparent and exceptionally difficult to hack; it has no single point of data which can be corrupted, nor is it reliant on a single point of management for its continued existence. Thus, blockchain networks are considered both highly robust and very secure.

Following these initial posts, High Fidelity issued two further blog posts charting their steps towards building a blockchain based commerce system using the HFC as its crypto-currency, and which can provide a means of authenticating and a chain of ownership for valid digital goods (assets) within High Fidelity domains. These were:

  • A First Look at High Fidelity Commerce in Action, published in October 2018, demonstrating how their proposed approach, as a decentralised, independent service, would integrate into the shopping experience for people within High Fidelity domains.

  • An examination of their approach to handling worn assets (clothing / accessories), published at the start of November 2017. This included how worn assets would be technically managed (including allowing in-world / in-store demonstration / trial versions), and how the blockchain mechanism will not only handle the purchase of goods in HFCs, but provide certification of validly purchased goods which can be reviewed by any other user when examining the purchased item itself.

Then, in December 2017, the company launched a closed beta of Avatar Island, a shopping domain offering more than 300 avatar clothing and accessories from designers around the world for High Fidelity users to try in-world and, if they wish, purchase them. first environment within High Fidelity which starts to weave all of the threads from those earlier blog posts together into a whole.

Avatar Island is impressive on a number of levels, including the real-time, interactive ability to try on different items; the ability to resize accessories to fit, to share the shopping experience with a friend, etc. The items offered for sale within it are the first digital goods (assets) certified by HF’s Digital Asset Registry (DAR), a decentralised, publicly auditable blockchain ledger.

The DAR serves a number of functions: it uniquely identifies every digital asset on the system; it enables such goods to be  purchased with the High Fidelity Coin; and it serves as a record of transactions made by High Fidelity users. At its heart is the use of Proof of Provenance (PoP), which documents an asset’s chain of ownership, its characteristics, and its entire history, from certification onward. It’s a record which cannot be altered, deleted or denied, establishing an asset’s chain of ownership — its sale and resale — that sits entirely in the hands of the asset’s owner.

Furthermore, PoP can be used to authenticate digital assets in any High Fidelity domain – and even allow domain owners regulate the objects allowed into their virtual spaces (e.g. a restriction could be placed to only allow items in keeping with the theme of a space into it, or only allow items from approved vendors, etc.). Thus, DAR / PoP is potentially a powerful way of managing asset ownership, identification, purchase and use across High Fidelity’s distributed environment.

Since the start of February 2018, High Fidelity offers a means for users to pay one another in HFCs. Credit: High Fidelity

At the start of February 2018, the company announced they were launching the ability for users to pay one another directly in HFCs (so tips can be given to performers, etc.). To kick-start this, early adopters of High Fidelity (e.g. those who had signed-up and been involved in High Fidelity over the course of the last couple of years) have been awarded a range of HFC grants, made available through a server called the “BankofHighFidelity”.

Together, the HFC, DAR, PoP and the “BankofHighFidelity” provide a solid foundation for commerce within HF domains. Currently, there is no means to cash-out HFCs for fiat money, but given that High Fidelity is well aware of the powerful attraction of being able to do so (and allowing for regulatory adherence), it’s hard to imagine this would not be a part of the company’s plans.

As it is, the company has stated it plans to operate “BankofHighFidelity” as an exchange where HFCs can be exchanged for other crypto-currencies (I assume the likes of Ethereum and Gloebit) – a quite ambitious move in itself.

High Fidelity, approaching the second anniversary of its open beta, had laid down and impressive commerce roadmap for their environment with some impressive technical capabilities for “in-world” transactions and shopping. It’s not entirely clear how this approach might work a supply chain approach to commerce, something Linden Lab is attempting to build into Sansar, or even if High Fidelity is thinking along those lines.

Given these developments within High Fidelity and the fact that linden Lab are hoping to have their own approach to commerce in Sansar more firmly established later in 2018, – and allowing for the key differences between the two environments, it’ll be interesting to compare and contrast how each tackles commerce, digital rights, asset provenance, etc., down the road.

High Fidelity reveal currency and IP protection roadmaps

In a pair of blog posts, Philip Rosedale of High Fidelity revealed the company’s plans to use blockchain technology as both a virtual worlds currency and for content protection.

The blockchain is described as “an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value” (Don Tapscott, Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin Is Changing Money, Business, and the World). It allows transactions to be simultaneously anonymous and secure by maintaining a tamper-proof public ledger of value. While it is most recognised for its role in driving Bitcoin, the technology is seen by more than 40 of the world’s top financial institutions as a potential means to provide speedier and more secure currency transactions. However, the technology has the potential to have far wider application.

To understand the basics of the blockchain, think of a database duplicated across the Internet, allowing any part of it to be updated by anyone at any time, and the updates being immediately available across all the duplicates of the database. Information held on a blockchain exists as a shared — and continually reconciled — database existing across multiple nodes. The decentralised blockchain network automatically checks with itself every ten minutes, reconciling every transaction, with each group of transactions checked referred to as a”block”. Within the network, nodes all operate as “administrators” of the entire network, and are encouraged to join it through what is (mistakenly) referred to as “mining”  – competing to “win” currency exchanges, sometimes for financial reward to the node’s operators (High Fidelity indicate that node operators will not gain directly from “mining” activities, but will instead be paid in HFCs for their computing resources used by the network).

Centralised, distributed and de-centralised networks – blockchains utilised decentralised networks

The key points to all this is that the blockchain is both openly transparent – the data is embedded in the network as a whole, not in any single point, and is by definition “public”. The lack of any centralisation also means it cannot be easily hacked – doing so would require huge amounts of computing power; nor is there a single point of data which can be corrupted or reliant on a single point of management for its continued existence – as High Fidelity point out, this means that the service can continue, even if High Fidelity does not. Thus, blockchain networks are considered both highly robust and very secure.

An estimated 700 Bitcoin-like crypto-currencies are already thought to be in operation, although the potential use of blockchains goes far, far beyond this (identity management, data management, record-keeping, stock broking, etc., etc.).

High Fidelity plans, over the coming months, to deploy their own blockchain network which will support both a new crypto-currency, the HFC (presumably “High Fidelity Currency”), which will ultimately operate independently of High Fidelity’s control. In addition, the system will provide a mechanism to protect intellectual property by embedding object certification affirming item ownership into the blockchain. This means that creators of original digital content. As High Fidelity explain:

Digital certificates issued by the High Fidelity marketplace (and likely other marketplaces choosing to use HFC) will serve a similar function as patents or trademarks — creators will register their works to get the initial certificates, and these certificates will be given out only for work that is not infringing on other or earlier works…. Once granted, these durable certificates cannot be revoked and can then be attached to purchases on the blockchain to prove the origin of goods. The absence of an accompanying digital certificate and blockchain entry will make digital forgery more obvious and impactful than in the real world — for example, server operators may choose not to host content without certificates and end-users may choose not to ‘see’ content according to it’s certificate status.

This approach could provide an extremely durable and trusted means of sharing digital content, one which is more durable than other approaches to digital rights management, for the same reasons as the blockchain offers security, transparency and robustness to operating a crypto-currency.

That the HFC blockchain is designed to operate independently of High Fidelity means that it can become self-sustaining, providing a currency environment that can be traded with other crypto-currencies and which can be exchanged for fiat currency through multiple exchanges.

The two blog posts – Roadmap Currency and Content Protection and Roadmap: Protecting Intellectual Property in Virtual Worlds – are very much companion pieces to be read in the order given. The first provides an overview of the HFC blockchain system and currency management, including how High Fidelity hope to establish a stable exchange rate mechanism without running into the issues of speculative dabbling in the system, inflated ICOs, etc., and on the use of digital wallets and personal security. It also outlines the certification mechanism for content protection, which the second article takes a deeper dive into, explaining how the relative strengthen of a blockchain approach as very quickly sketched out above could be used in protecting creator’s IP and controlling how their products / creations are used.

The decentralised approach to currency and digital rights management is something that has been pointed to numerous times during High Fidelity’s development, but this is the first time the plans have been more fully fleshed out and defined in writing. It’s an ambitious approach, one likely to stir debate and discussion – particularly given the current situation regarding the Decentraland / Ethereum and the risk of speculation around ICOs (again, something High Fidelity hope to avoid).

it’s also one which again points to High Fidelity’s founders looking far more towards more of an “open metaverse” approach to virtual environments and goods than others might be considering.

2016 OpenSimulator Community Conference December 10th / 11th

Image courtesy of the OpenSimulator Community Conference
Image courtesy of the OpenSimulator Community Conference

The 2016 OpenSimulator Community  Conference is in progress over the weekend of December 10th / 11th. An annual event, the conference focuses on the developer and user community creating the OpenSimulator software.  It is organised as a joint production by Core Developers of OpenSimuator and AvaCon, and this year is sponsored by University of California, Irvine, Institute for Virtual Environments and Computer Games, Rockcliffe University Consortium, and Virtual Outworlding together with a host crowdfunders.

The conference this year once again features business presentations, talks, panel discussions, workshops, social events and hypergrid activities, covering a wide range of subject areas, including education, social VR, using virtual worlds and environments for historical recreations – and much more besides.

You can find the full schedule of events on the OpenSimulator Community Conference website, together with instructions on how to log-in and join and of the sessions.  The latter are also being streamed for those unable to attend via avatar.

Image courtesy of the OpenSimulator Community Conference
Image courtesy of the OpenSimulator Community Conference

Related Links

 

2016 OpenSimulator Conference registrations open

Image courtesy of the OpenSimulator Community Conference
Image courtesy of the OpenSimulator Community Conference

On Tuesday, November 8th, registrations for the 2016 OpenSimulator Community Conference opened.

The 2016 conference will be over two days: Saturday 10th and Sunday 11th December, with social events being held in the run-up to, and around the dates of, the conference itself.

Since seats are limited, registration is open on a first-come-first-served basis until the maximum number of virtual conference centre tickets is reached.  At that point, community members will still be able to register for the live streamed version of the conference that will be available.

Attendance is free, but those wishing to financially support the conference can sponsor or participate in the OSCC Crowdfunder Campaign when registering. Participants in the Crowdfunding Campaign will receive a variety of thank you gifts depending upon their level of participation, including early access, conference promotional items, and ability to have a virtual expo booth at the event.

Registrations can be made here.

Image courtesy of the OpenSimulator Community Conference
Image courtesy of the OpenSimulator Community Conference

In addition, the organisers are still seeking individuals and groups willing to host  social events If you are interested, please complete the Community Events Sign-up page.

Volunteers are also still being sought as:

  • Greeters / audience helpers
  • Moderators
  • Builders
  • Scripters
  • Social Media / Communications
  • Streaming and Technical Support

Those interested in volunteering can do so via the Volunteer Sign-up form,  Depending upon their interests, volunteers can select more than one role if they wish.

About the Conference

The OpenSimulator Community Conference is an annual conference that focuses on the developer and user community creating the OpenSimulator software. The conference is a joint production by Core Developers of OpenSimulator and AvaCon, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the growth, enhancement, and development of the metaverse, virtual worlds, augmented reality, and 3D immersive and virtual spaces.  The conference features a day of presentations, panels, keynote sessions, and social events across diverse sectors of the OpenSimulator user base.

OSCC 2016: call for proposals and volunteers

Image courtesy of the OpenSimulator Community Conference
Image courtesy of the OpenSimulator Community Conference

The 2016 OpenSimulator Community Conference (OSCC) will take place on Saturday 10th and Sunday 11th December 2016.

An annual conference that focuses on the developer and user community creating the OpenSimulator software.  Organised as a joint production by Core Developers of OpenSimulator and AvaCon, Inc., and sponsored by the University of California, Irvine, Institute for Virtual Environments and Computer Games, the conference features a day of presentations, panels, keynote sessions, and social events across diverse sectors of the OpenSimulator user base.

Call for Proposals

The Conference for 2016 will feature a series of dynamic short presentations and panels that spotlight the best of the OpenSimulator platform and community, and a Call for Proposals has been issued to individuals or groups who are shaping the Metaverse.

The focus for the 2016 event is the visions for the future and the evolution of the platform, with 20-minute sessions available for speakers, while community-sponsored tours, content give-aways and Hypergrid explorations take attendees to far away places. The organisers encourage presentations that span current innovations and activities, performance artistry, educational simulations, innovative business cases or  have a publication or track record of real world use.

Image courtesy of the OpenSimulator Community Conference
Image courtesy of the OpenSimulator Community Conference

Those wishing to participate directly in the conference as speakers can do so via the following tracks:

  • Creative
  • Education
  • Technical
  • Experiential
  • Other

All proposals should be submitted using the conference Proposal Submission form, and any questions direct to the conference organisers.

The key dates for proposals are:

  • October 9th, 2016 11:59 PST: Deadline for proposals
  • October 23rd, 2016:  acceptance details e-mails will be dispatched by the conference organisers to accepted speakers
  • October 30th, 2016: accepted speakers must register for the conference in order to be included in the conference schedule and the programme
  • November 19th, 2016: presenter Orientation & Training sessions to prepare speakers for the conference and to set-up Presenter Booths. Any custom content, props, and audio-visuals must be submitted to be included in the conference programme.
  • December 10th – 11th, 2016: 2016 OpenSimulator Community Conference
  • December 11th, 2016 – OSCC Hypergrid tour and other community events.
Image courtesy of the OpenSimulator Community Conference
Image courtesy of the OpenSimulator Community Conference

Community Social Events

A key part of OSCC is the social events held in the run-up to, and around the dates of, the conference itself. Those interested in running / hosting a social event should complete the Community Events Sign-up page.  There will also be limited available space on the OSCC conference grid for those who would like to host an OSCC meet-up or an after conference event on Sunday, December 11th. Please contact the conference organisers. with any questions.

Volunteers

The conference needs volunteers to help in a range of activities:

  • Greeters / audience assistances
  • Moderators
  • Builders
  • Scripters
  • Social Media / Communications
  • Streaming and Technical Support

Those interested in volunteering can do so via the Volunteer Sign-up form,  Depending upon interests, volunteers can select more than one role if they wish.

About the Conference

The OpenSimulator Community Conference is an annual conference that focuses on the developer and user community creating the OpenSimulator software. The conference is a joint production by Core Developers of OpenSimulator and AvaCon, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the growth, enhancement, and development of the metaverse, virtual worlds, augmented reality, and 3D immersive and virtual spaces.  The conference features a day of presentations, panels, keynote sessions, and social events across diverse sectors of the OpenSimulator user base.