Sansar and VR / AR in the press

AppliedVR: VR support for hospital patients. Credit: AppliedVR (see below)

This month has seen some interesting press pieces popping up concerning VR and Sansar since the opening of the Creator Beta. However, three in particular have so far caught my eye as they appeared, as they offer interesting perspectives and discussion points both on the Lab’s new platform and on VR and AR as a whole.

The first – and most recent, is Barely into Beta, Sansar is making social VR look good, by Alice Bonasio, which appeared in The Next Web on August 18th. The title caused some to question Sansar’s social capabilities, but the article itself was more about Sansar’s overall status and development, rather than zeroing directly into the medium of “social VR” per se. In this respect, it opens by clearly underlining the platform is still in its early days, and there is still much to be done, using a quote from Peter Gray, the Lab’s Director of Global Communications, to do so:

We wanted to make Sansar available to everyone as early as possible, and there are still a lot of features and capabilities that we’re excited to add to the platform soon, as well as many improvements to the current featureset.

Alice Bonasio: looking at Sansar

From here, Ms Bonasio makes the point that despite the lack of features and capabilities which will be needed to fulfil on its promise of being a social hub, it already looks good and offers a lot to see, much of which points to the platform’s potential.

The piece also delves into some of the technical and economic factors which set Sansar apart: such as Linden Lab’s partnerships with IKinema and Speech Graphics. The former is key to the Sansar avatars utilising Inverse Kinematics in an advanced way, and which are and will play a key role in the Sansar avatar’s development. The latter is key to synchronising facial animations automatically to match speech patterns, a capability key to many of the social interactions Linden Lab hope will be occurring within Sansar.

The article also touches on some of the key differences between Sansar and Second Life, the ability Linden Lab has to take fourteen years of running a virtual world to help shape the philosophy and approach it takes with Sansar. Passing – but important – mention is made of the Lab’s ability to self-finance Sansar; given the topsy-turvy situation with Altspace VR (which may have been saved from having to close), this is an important fact to keep in mind.

As noted above, the piece has received some feedback questioning the “social” element of Sansar at it stands at present, which given the broader thrust of the article might be considered a little out-of-context. However, it is fair to say that right now Sansar does currently lack elements which could be regarded as essential to supporting larger-scale social activities. Similarly, while social interactions are possible – as demonstrated through the daily meet-ups held “in-worlds” – it’s also fair to say these can be confusing and limiting for some. For example, undisciplined voice chat can mean that that multiple conversations in a single locale can overlay one another and become confusing to those not used to voice chat.

Hopefully these issues will be addressed, along with the provision of other social elements, and I’ll doubtless have more to say on them myself in the future 🙂 . In the meantime, this article provides a good summation of Sansar for the curious / those wishing to catch-up on things.

Samantha Cole examines VR’s role in conference calls

Over at The Fast Company, Samantha Cole uses Sansar to ask Will Virtual Reality Solve Your Conference Call Nightmares?

I’ll say up-front that I’m one of the non-believers that VR will become ubiquitous for business-style conference calls for a number of reasons, and its fair to say that Samantha Cole does a balanced job of presenting both sides of the argument – whilst also offering side pointers to those areas where VR is already showing benefits (and which I’d suggest Sansar could leverage).

Much has been made of VR’s abilities to add body language, hand movements, eye movement and contact – all vital elements in adding subliminal feedback / context to our day-to-day, face-to-face interactions to one another – to give more depth and meaning to tele- and video-style conferencing. In doing so, the likes of the telephone and “traditional” means of this type of conferencing have been somewhat “demonised”. Emphasis is laid on things like network latency, or the extra mental effort involved in reading into people’s words when you can only hear their voice or see their head / shoulders, as “limiting” such interactions.

But the truth is, we’ve been using the telephone for decades as a business tool. It’s fast and convenient, and as adults, we’re all pretty adept on picking-up on vocal nuances. We’re also, in a business context, far more prepared to communicate directly with colleagues; if there is something worrying / irksome within a work environment / business project, most of us are pretty willing to make thought known, be they over the ‘phone, face-to-face or via e-mail. So even with the faster, lighter, better VR technology we’re promised will be coming down the pipe, is it really any kind of “killer app” for business conferencing?

Eric Boyd, a professor of marketing at James Madison University points to emerging trends within the workplace as a whole being more a deciding factor here. Many companies have experimented with remote / home working over the past 2 or so decades, and the pendulum tends to swing back and forth. Right now, as the article points out, one of the first to enter the arena of remote working, IBM, is currently backing away from it. Thus, if working practices remain centralised, it’s hard to see VR overturning technologies already in place and supported by existing corporate infrastructure, no matter what the perceptions of their “limitations”. But for those organisations continuing to embrace remote working, VR could become a useful meeting tool.

Certainly there would seem to be far better uses VR could be put towards within a business environment: prototyping, training, simulations, and so on, which seem far more likely to drive its adoption by business and industry far more than the humble conference call. In this, Cole’s pointing to VR’s potential in training and simulation and in architecture is very salient; these are very much markets well suited to VR / AR / MR – perhaps more so that conference calls.

Amitt Mahajan – taking the temperature of the VR / AR market

Writing for Xconomy, Bernadette Tansey sits down with Amitt Mahajan, a Managing Partner at Presence Capital to take the temperature at VR / AR at mid-year., which also touches on the potential for both as business platforms / tools.

While Sansar is only mentioned in passing (together with the downs and ups of AltspaceVR), the article is interesting as it encompasses the viewpoint of a company investing in VR and AR start-ups with funding in the US $100,000-500,000 range – which is small when compared to the likes of the big players, but has allowed the company to bask some significant start-ups, including STRIVR, who are in the VR training a simulation field mentioned above.

The article opens which a rapid-fire overview of the VR / AR market – including its niche status at present, which could be said to be largely down to the limitations of the current hardware (or lack thereof in AR’s case, although that is beginning to change) rather than anything else. However, the meat of the piece is where Mahajan sees the technologies going over the next several years.

What’s interesting here is that within Presence Capital, they are moving away from consumer-focused VR endeavours and more towards business and business-to-business (B2B) / enterprise VR applications as well as for AR; he points to the likes of AppliedVR and their development of an immersive platform to help comfort patients  undergoing painful procedures, and also underlines VR’s application in training.

This year’s swing towards AR is also examined: Google, Apple and Facebook are all looking to develop AR platforms, and the discussion looks at these and at the questions of standards, formats, and enabling technologies. In this, Mahajan points somewhat towards the eventual merger of AR and VR to produce Mixed Reality, indirectly pointing to how AR – augmented reality – could actually become an enabler of VR (something the likes of Qualcomm are working towards with Android and their snapdragon chipset), simply because it will allow both to coexists as tools people can switch between according to needs.

All three article make for interesting reads, presenting a broad range of perspectives not just on Sansar (in the case of Alice Bonasio’s piece) but on VR and AR as whole.

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Singularity’s look at Sansar and Second Life

Writing in Singularity Hub, the on-line publication of Singularity University, Aaron Frank, principal faculty at the university lecturing on augmented and virtual reality, offers an interesting piece that covers both Second Life and Sansar.

New Virtual World Sansar is Ready to Pick Up Where Second Life Left Offwhich appeared on Friday, June 23rd, may have another slightly misleading title (see Sansar: thoughts around Kotaku’s hands-on), starts with a look back to May 2006, when the story of Anshe Chung’s rise to millionaire status marked her appearance on the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek. The event marked the start of SL’s broader rise in the consciousness of the media (and the general public), and Mr. Franks quickly runs through what followed, culminating in the so-called “failure” (i.e. writing-off by the media) of Second Life – before pointing out that for a “failed” venture, it is still here and still generating an economic throughput sufficient enough for some users (land owners in particular) to draw down a collective US $60 million in income from the platform in 2016.

Aaron Frank

True enough, nothing new here for those of us familiar with Second Life, and the Lab’s popular talking-points for the platform. These include referencing SL’s 2016 “GDP” of half a billion dollars, references to the use of the platform by Texas A&M University, which are again doubtless familiar to many SL users. But as well-trod as these point might be, it’s still good to see another writer willing to look openly at the platform within feeling the need to rub against the “seedier” (as others might wont to have it) side of Second Life.

After his look at Second Life, Mr. Frank takes a dive into Sansar – carefully noting it is the Lab’s new venture while avoiding any reference to it being in any way a “replacement” – because, as we’ve established elsewhere, it isn’t.

Here we’re again treated to a run through familiar territory: the description of spaces visited, the nod towards emerging mechanics on the platform (bouncing and throwing basketballs), the fidelity of the rendering, the spatial sound, etc. Before moving to equally familiar statements about the core differentiator between Sansar and SL (other than the former’s “built for VR” aspect) – the underpinning revenue generation model, before touching on the familiar analogies between Sansar and WordPress.

But within the familiar there are a couple of points worth noting, and which may have been missed along the way, despite being mentioned elsewhere. The first is the re-affirmation that Sansar spaces could be as big as four kilometres on a side – the equivalent of 16 SL regions by 16 SL regions.  While this has previously been intimated, it still seems to be something that is missed in some quarters, so seeing it referenced again here in no bad thing.

The SingularityHub article reminds us that spaces in Sansar could cover an area equivalent to 256 regions in SL: four kilometres on a side

The other element is the confirmation that scenes can be interconnected. This is something that has again been stated by the Lab in the past, but is also something that may have been missed in SL circles – a certain amount of the negativity towards Sansar has been the idea that spaces within it are all “standalone”.

Obviously, “interconnected” does not mean Sansar spaces are in any way contiguous with one another as Mainland and places like Blake Sea in Second Life are. However, it does suggest the ability to at least hop from one Sansar experience to another in a similar manner to teleporting in Second Life. In this, it’s also interesting to note that Ebbe Altberg himself first referred to teleporting between Sansar spaces in an interview a year ago, and it’s interesting to note Cecilia D’Anastasio referred to teleporting between Sansar scenes in her piece for Kotaku (linked to earlier in this article). Of course, this could mean going via the Sansar Atlas, which we’ve already seen – but “teleporting” does seem to suggest a more direct route than leaping via a directory of spaces.

Also noted in the article is something I’ve touched on before – that “creator” in Sansar has a wider meaning than we’re accustomed to seeing in Second Life. In the latter, “creator” is pretty much focused on those who ho design and make the goods we use to dress our avatars and furnish our land; it not a terms closely linked with those who obtain land in SL and design environments using the goods they have purchased from creators. Within “Sansar” the term clearly applies to both in equal measure, which also offers a broader scope for the idea of “democratising content creation” (after all, a region, even if designed using good purchased from others is as much a part of SL’s content as the goods themselves).

The Sansar Marketplace. Credit: Linden Lab, via SingularityHub

Towards the end of the article, there is a discussion on the cultural changes technology has brought about , with Mr. Franks notes with this that, “Society has become native to virtual living.”

And we have; the creative freedoms we have today to socialise across geographic boundaries, to share out thoughts through blogging, our images via photo sharing, our lives through video – and to combine all three – really didn’t exist on the scale we see today when Second Life started out. But that doesn’t mean that the world at large is ready to leap into Sansar (or any similar platform), be it with or without VR hardware, simply to carry on / do more of the things people are already doing through other means. As such, Sansar could  – in terms of the general populace and acceptance / use – face as big a mountain to climb as Second Life did.

But then, if Sansar lays claim to enough of those market verticals where it appears to have clear potential, and can leverage revenue from them, Sansar need not actually need to go “mass market” in the manner once envisioned for Second Life in order to be a success; it could do very nicely as a lead player in a variety of market niches.

Sansar: thoughts around Kotaku’s hands-on

The Sansar Apollo Museum, unveiled LOOT Interactive’s The Art of VR event in New York on June 22nd, allows visitors to virtually explore true-to-scale models of the Saturn V rocket, Command and Service Module, and Lunar Excursion Module used to reach the Moon, then walk the entire mission from launch to re-entry via a Museum-length mission map; and teleport to a recreation of the Apollo 11 lunar landing site. Credit: LOOT Interactive / Linden Lab

While it doesn’t offer any revaluations of epic proportions about Sansar, and is headlined by the somewhat misleading Hands On With Sansar, the New Second Life, Cecilia D’Anastasio’s June 21st, 2017 piece for Kotaku, still makes for an interesting read, offering as it does further looks inside Sansar for those keen to get a look at environments there, and some food for thought.

Cecilia is a journalist I greatly admire, and who has excellently covered Second Life in the past (see A Perspective On Avatars and Identity and Motherboard Looks at Second Life). She got to spend time in Sansar, which appears to be currently on the road, visiting various events (Canada last month, now New York City) in which might be part of the Lab’s efforts in ramping-up public awareness of the platform as they roll towards an “open beta” phase with the platform.

Cecilia D’Anastasio: a hands on and thoughts about Sansar

Along the way, she visited several spaces within Sansar, and while treading the familiar ground of Sansar being the “WordPress of VR”, a “VR first” environment, etc., she also took time to point out the side of the platform which isn’t perhaps pushed quite so hard by the Lab: that it can be access and experienced by anyone using a PC system, regardless as to whether they have a VR headset.

True, the focus of development in Sansar thus far has leant towards the VR end of the scale because the Lab is convinced VR will be a major factor in people’s lives (and as readers know, I’m not so convinced of that argument), and the desktop side of things still needs work. However, that Sansar can be accessed via a PC sans headset, is something that perhaps should be underlined more, simply because sales of PC-based VR headsets really aren’t that stellar right now, and are likely to remain less-than-exciting for the next few years – something I’ll come back to in a moment.

Early in the piece, Cecilia drops a couple of comments which, while interesting, might require reading with care. For example, in one she references Sansar being subscription based. However, given the Lab hasn’t really been that forthcoming about the revenue model for Sansar, it’s impossible to determine what is meant by “subscription” in the article. Does it really mean anyone wishing to use Sansar will have to subscribe first, or is it a reference to that fact things like hosting space for Sansar experiences will have an associated fee?

But rather than nitpick, let’s come back to the “Sansar from a desktop” aspect of the piece. I found this particularly interesting because while the Lab has pointed to Sansar being “PC accessible” without a headset, many of those aware of it still see it only as a VR platform – and this could be a problem for Sansar, at least in the near-term.

Now, to be clear, and as I’ve tended to say in the past, there are vertical markets where VR – and thus, by extension, Sansar –  has exceptional merit and could gain significant traction in the near-term:

  • Gaming
  • Education – both for practical teaching, and for the ability to visit / recreate historical environments and bring them to a broader public. Hence the recreation of an Egyptian tomb created from LiDAR mapping, while the real tomb can only be accessed in the physical world with permission from Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities,  and the just unveiled  Apollo Museum and the Harold Lloyd Stereoscopic Museum.
Another look at the Sansar Apollo museum, showing the complete “Eagle” Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) sitting on the Sea of Tranquillity (and with visitors!). Credit:  LOOT Interactive / Linden Lab
  • Architecture and design: allowing companies large and small work in VR to develop immersive models for clients, which can be toured, examined for issues or things like changes clients would like to see, all before any work is undertaken. Hence why (as I’ve previously pointed out), it was no accident that the first public demonstration for Project Sansar came during San Francisco’s month-long 2015 Architecture and the City Festival.
  • Simulation and Training: Sansar could again offer significant benefits to those requiring immersive and flexibility VR-based training and simulation without the need to heavily invest in dedicated work spaces / environments.
  • Healthcare: VR is already demonstrating its value in a wide variety of applications, including helping with post traumatic stress disorder, pain relief for burns victims, cancer care, and more.

BUT, the fact is that many of these sectors work just as effectively sans a VR headset. OK, so the depth of immersion would be lost, but that doesn’t mean they cannot be practically used. Thus, by pushing the VR-centric aspect of the platform so aggressively, the Lab could risk turning those institutions, companies, etc., that might be interested in exploring Sansar away from the platform, simply because they are unwilling to make the investment in VR systems, but are waiting to see how the market growth and what products appear.

No, it’s not a home in Second Life, it’s a home in Sansar. Credit: Linden Lab, via Kotaku

Within the mass market of home users, this focus on VR hardware could impact Sansar’s reach even further. Simply put, the “humble” PC with its “barriers” (as Philip Rosedale from High Fidelity would call them) of the mouse and keyboard, still has a far, far greater reach into people’s homes than VR is likely to achieve for several years at least. So again, putting the heavy emphasis on Sansar “being about the VR” could so easily turn people away from trying it, simply because they are also unwilling to put money into headsets and associated hardware, and won’t be until they see prices come down to the level of “affordability”.

Of course, the Lab state they are in Sansar for the long haul – pointing towards Second Life’s longevity; and as noted above, there are market sectors where VR perhaps is starting to gain traction and which Sansar could comfortably leverage. Even so and as Cecilia suggests, a more open approach to how Sasnar can be used with or without VR headsets and hardware, could broaden the new platform’s appeal even as VR goes through its own growing pains.

Engadget and VentureBeat visit Sansar

The new Sansar logo (courtesy of Linden Lab)
The new Sansar logo (courtesy of Linden Lab)

There have been a couple of articles on Sansar in December, each of which touch upon Second Life. While both retread ground already familiar to those of us who have been following Sansar’s development. However, hidden within them are some interesting little nuggets.

Appearing in the December 17th edition of VentureBeat, Dean Takahashi’s Linden Lab’s Sansar will take virtual worlds far beyond Second Life, caused umbrage with at least one pundit, leading as it did with the statement “Second Life is by far the most successful virtual world ever created”, resulting in some kind of kindergarten like comparison of “who has the most”.

Dean Takahashi, lead writer, GamesBeat
Dean Takahashi, lead writer for VentureBeat’s, GamesBeat

Yes, there are other virtual / game environments out their with a larger cache of active users; but then, do any of them present the kinds of opportunity  for revenue generation on a scale achieved by Second Life? Does it really matter which has the most of what?

No, not really. Of far more interest to me is what Takahashi has to say about Second Life – the fact that it is still going strong – and about Sansar.

Foremost in this – although easily unnoticed – is the reference the Sansar opening its gates to the public at large in “early” 2017.

Over the last few months the Lab has talked in terms of “Q1 2017” as the time frame for Sansar’s opening out. It’s a precise time frame, indicating a period between the start of January and the end of March. “Early 2017” is somewhat less precise, and while Takahashi may be using the phrase as a different means of stating “Q1 2017”, it’s hard not to wonder if perhaps his wording is indicative that the Lab is now looking a little beyond Q1 2017 for opening Sansar to the public.

If so, it wouldn’t be surprising. Slippages happen with big projects, and shouldn’t be unexpected or seen as sign that something is “wrong”; it’s simply the nature of the beast. And we have already seen it at least once with Sansar, when the opening of the Creator Preview slipped from the target of June 2016 to August 2016.

Elsewhere in his piece, Takahashi pulls out the WordPress analogy. This is something we’re all probably tired of hearing, given it’s been raised in just about every interview / report on Sansar during the course of 2016. However, that doesn’t make it any the less important, because it is one of the central reasons why Sansar could reach a much, much broader audience than Second Life has managed to achieve, and Takahashi observes:

Rather than one continuous world, Sansar is a set of virtual spaces that will be a lot more accessible than Second Life. You could, for instance, share the link to your virtual space on social media and invite people to visit it that way. With Second Life, you typically visit the site, download the client, create your avatar, and then join it.

Second Life users looking unfavourably on Sansar has made much of this lack of it being a “continuous world”. but while we, as Second Life users are undoubtedly conditioned by the presence of the map, the same isn’t automatically true for a broader audience of the kind Sansar is being aimed towards. They’re liable to be far more interested in finding and accessing the experiences they want to enjoy and then having the means to possibly jump to other points of interest, regardless of whether or not they are in any way “geographically defined” one to another – perhaps via teleporting, something Ebbe Altberg hinted might be the case when talking to Occipital’s Mark Piszczor back in June.

Nick Summers, associate editor, Engagdet UK
Nick Summers, associate editor, Engagdet UK

In writing Second Life’s creator is building a ‘WordPress for social VR’ for Endgadget on December 21st,  Nick Summers also examines how people will move between Sansar experiences, referencing the use of an “Atlas” search directory (something we’ve also previously seen demonstrated). This appears to be akin to the SL Destination Guide, presenting a means for Sansar users to hop between connected experiences much as we hop around Second Life.

A further point of interest between the two pieces – which cover a lot of common ground in terms of what the reports are shown within Sanasar – is the manner in which the one article raises a question and the other answers it.

Take object manipulation. Up until now, the vast majority of object manipulation in Sansar has been sown in the Edit Mode, although it has been indicated that some basic manipulation will be possible in the run-time environment (and we’ll certainly need to interact with objects in the run-time environment if we are to sit on them, drive them, fly them, etc). However, Takahashi refers to moving a palm tree around and bouncing rubber balls about. So is object manipulation not more accessible in the run-time space?

Summers’ article suggests not, noting that manipulation in the run-time environment is still “limited”, and referencing the edit more more directly when discussing moving and placing things.  Both offer interesting tidbits which perhaps also help people who may not quite see the “point” or “audience” for Sansar.

Ebbe Altberg moving virtual furniture around in Sansar, demonstrating some of the platform's capabilities at the WSJ.D Live conference, October 24th-26th
So far, object manipulation in Sansar has only been shown in the platform’s edit mode, such as when being demonstrated at events like the WSJ.D Live conference, October 24th-26th. How much of this might be possible in the runtime environment? How will personal object manipulation be handled within spaces you don’t necessarily own, such as a role-play environment where you are a “player”?

Takahashi, for example, references Altberg’s comments that Sansar offers the kind of defined, manageable environment in which a school or architectural might comfortably develop (and have hosted) an immersive educational or design experience without the need to necessarily being in external design talent or partake of an entire MMO / virtual world experience.

Elsewhere, Summers shines a little bit more light on the potential for revenue generation through Sansar for both the Lab and content creators:

It’s unclear how much Sansar will cost for people who want to design their own VR world. Linden Lab envisions a low, monthly fee that will grant creators access to a virtual plot of land. They can build whatever they want on top, and then choose whether to charge an entry fee for visitors. Designers will, of course, also have the option to sell their individual items on the in-game marketplace. Sansar is therefore like a canvas. Linden Lab will provide some basic paintbrushes, but the hope is that artists will bring their own. They’ll pay the company to store and display their work — similar to an art gallery — and then earn some cash when someone requests a viewing or permission to rework it as part of something new.

Taken together, both of these articles complement one another nicely. Yes, they do re-tread familiar ground, but they also – possibly – give us a few new pointers and insights into Sansar which raise the interest level a notch or two.

Inside Sansar with the Wall Street Journal

Ebbe Altberg moving virtual furniture around in Sansar, demonstrating some of the platform's capabilities at the WSJ.D Live conference, October 24th-26th
Ebbe Altberg moving virtual furniture around in Sansar, demonstrating some of the platform’s capabilities at the WSJ.D Live conference, October 24th-26th. Credit: Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal WSJ.D Live conference has just wrapped up for 2016, having taken place in Laguna Beach, California.

Attending the event, Linden Lab CEO demonstrated using VR headset and controllers within a Sansar scene, showing how the controllers can be used to manipulate objects. The video is available of the WSJ YouTube channel, and I’ve embedded it at the end of this article. The Sansar scene itself is relatively simple, and the aim appears to be just to show how reasonably easy it is to move content around when defining a space, rather than any in-depth look at the fidelity of the platform’s graphics.

As we know, the actual editing environment in Sansar is quite separate from the run-time environment. While the latter doesn’t permit “in-world” building, it has been indicated that users will be able to move content around within in – thus allowing them to personalise spaces and arrange scenes; however, I have it on good authority (Ebbe himself), that the scene shown in the demo was using the edit mode.

The video includes brief shot of the in-world controller / menu, but motion is such that determining anything of import from it is difficult.

Angel investor Benjamin Rohé was at the presentation, and Tweeted a short video of Sansar avatars. As we know from Lab Chat sessions, these are liable to be going through further development as Sansar progresses, so it’s hard to judge how close these are to the looks those stepping through the doors when Sansar allows public admission from early 2017, but I’m guessing it’s not too face off base. What will be interesting is to see just how customisable they will become.

Sansar avatars at WSJ.D Live. Credit: Benjamin Rohé
Sansar avatars at WSJ.D Live.The red thing is a more other-worldly avatar form! Credit: Benjamin Rohé

Beyond the look, nothing really new is said about the platform – numbers of users engaged with it through the closed alpha and the Creator Preview have reached “few hundred”, and the public release is still looked at in terms of Q1 2017.

In addition,  presentation hosts Geoffrey Fowler and Joanna Stern Tweeted pictures of themselves as Sansar avatars.

Joanna Stern and Geoffrey Fowler (seen in the inset image) and as they appear as Sansar avatars. Credits: Geoffrey R. Fowler / WSJ Live
Joanna Stern and Geoffrey Fowler (seen in the inset image) and as they appear as Sansar avatars. Credits: Geoffrey R. Fowler / WSJ Live

The video leaves a lot of unanswered questions – how are tasks like walking and running handled, for example, when using Sansar via HMD? Will it be point-and-hop, which others will see and a fluid walking motion (remember that they’ll be seeing your avatar, whereas you won’t)? Will those entering Sansar without VR headsets, etc., be able to see their own avatar in third-person as we’re accustomed to doing in Second life (and which is actually part of the attraction of spaces like SL)? And more besides. So judging the platform on the strength of clips like this might not be entirely fair.

But it does add to the list of questions for the nest set of lab Chats!

Updated to reflect the fact the demonstration shows Sansar in Edit mode, with thanks to Ebbe Altberg for the clarification, and to add the avatar image of Joanna Stern and Geoffrey Fowler. 

Philosophical frenemies: Altberg and Rosedale

High Fidelity - a composite promotional shot. Credit: High Fidelity (via Wired)
High Fidelity – part of a composite promotional shot. Credit: High Fidelity (via Wired)

Yesterday, a Tweet from Jo Yardley pointed me to an interesting article in Wired by Rowland Manthorpe, entitled Second Life was just the beginning. Philip Rosedale is back and he’s delving into VR. It’s a lengthy, fascinating piece, arising out of a week Manthorpe spent with High Fidelity, while also taking time to poke his head around the door of Linden Lab, offering considerable food for thought – and it kept me cogitating things for a day, on-and-off.

There’s some nice little tidbits of information on both platforms scattered through the piece. For those that have tended to dismiss High Fidelity as a place of “cartoony” avatars, the images provided with the article demonstrate that High Fidelity are walking along the edge of the Uncanny valley; compare the Rosedale-like figure seen the a High Fidelity promo shot within it with a photo of the man himself (below). There’s also further indication that in terms of broader creativity and virtual space, High Fidelity is “closer” to the Second Life model of a virtual world than Sansar will be.

On the Lab’s side of things, we also get confirmation that multiple instances of the same space in Sansar will not be in any way connected (“One school group visiting the Egyptian tomb won’t bump into another – they will be in separate, identical spaces.”). There’s also a hint that Linden Lab may still be looking at Sansar as a “white label” environment.

High Fidelity can still be critiqued by some in SL for it's "cartony" avatar. The reality is however, that for those who wish, avtars in High Fidelity can be extremely life-like, as this picture of what Philip Rosedale might look like in High Fidelity (r) shows when compared to an actual photograph of him. Credits: High Fidelity / Jason Madara
High Fidelity can still be critiqued by some in SL for its “cartoony” avatar. The reality is however, that for those who wish, avatars in High Fidelity can be extremely life-like, as this picture of what Philip Rosedale might look like in High Fidelity (r) shows when compared to an actual photograph of him. Credits: High Fidelity / Jason Madara

But what really makes the piece interesting is the philosophical differences apparent in developing these platforms; each is very much rooted in the nature of the man at the helm of each company.

Rosedale is a dreamer – and that’s not a negative statement. He’s been driven by “dreams” and “visions” throughout most of his post Real Networks career. He also leans heavily into the collaborative, open borders model of development. Both have influenced the working spaces he builds around him. Reading Manthorpe’s piece, the High Fidelity office appears to be run along a similar laissez-faire approach as marked the early years at Linden Lab:  people dabble in what interests them, focused on the technology; there’s a belief that if the company cannot solve a problem (such as practical in-world building using hand controllers), someone “out there” will, and all will be well.

By contrast, Altberg is more consumer / direction oriented with Sansar. Initial market sectors have been identified, work has been broken down into phases. A structured development curve has been set; as we’ve seen from Lab Chat and other sessions, there’s a reasonably clear understanding of what should be tackled first, and what can be pushed further down the development path. The platform itself is closed, controlled, managed.

Sansar Screen Shot, Linden Lab, August 2016, on Flickr Sansar (TM) Screen Shot, Linden Lab, October 2016, on Flickr

In adopting these approaches, and given their somewhat complicated business relationship (Rosedale still have “sizeable” financial holding in Linden Lab; linden Lab was one of the small investors in High Fidelity’s $2.4 million round of seed funding), Rosedale and Altberg describe their relationship as “frenemies”. They are both working towards similar goals, and dealing with the same consumer-facing technology, and are equally sniffy of the other’s product. Rosedale sees Sansar is being potentially too closed, too pigeon-holed in terms of how it will be perceived by consumers; Altberg sees High Fidelity as being to focused on the technology, and perhaps demanding more effort than most on-line consumers in the Facebook pre-packaged content age might be willing to invest.

When looked at from outside, the Rosedale / High Fidelity approach is perhaps more in keeping with the state of VR once all the hyperbole surrounding it is brushed aside:  VR may well be part of our future, but no-one can honestly say at this point just how big a part of our future it will be. The Altberg / Linden Lab approach is rooted business pragmatism: identify your markets and seek to deliver to those markets; build your product to reflect the market as it grows.

Neither approach is necessarily “right” or “wrong”, and there is certainly no reason why both cannot attract their own market share. But I have to admit I find myself leaning more in Altberg’s direction.

This is admittedly partly because a lot of Rosedale’s broader comments about High Fidelity, the Internet, etc., come across as re-treads of things said ten years ago about Second Life and a transformative future never realised. But it’s more particularly because  – as noted above – no-one really knows how pervasive VR will be on a broad level. Other technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) currently lie within the shadow cast by the hyperbole surrounding VR, but have the potential for far greater impact in how we conduct our lives and business. So identifying a market share and aiming for it seems to be the more solid approach insofar as establishing a user base and revenue flow might be concerned*.

Time will obviously tell on this; but one fact is clear: however you regard the philosophies held by Rosedale and Altberg, Manthorpe’s article is a must read. A considered, well presented, in-depth piece, it is sits as a catalyst for considerable thought and potential discussion.

*Edited 25 October 2015, to include this sentence, which was accidentally removed from the initial publication of this piece.