Oculus Rift in Second Life: nice to have but not enough for a breakthrough

oculus

So I bought an Oculus Rift virtual headset and ventured into Second Life using the special viewer. This was rather frustrating using a MacBook Air 1.7 Ghz, Intel HD Graphics 5000, but things went a lot better with a MacBook Pro 2.5 Ghz and an Intel Iris Pro for graphics.

I got no motion sickness as the environments were rather slow – a tranquil Japanese sim, an Italian one, a stunningly beautiful beach scenery with a few avatars. It was captivating to be immersed  this way, looking down into a fascinating tropical sea, up to birds in the sky and high rocks. Or flying and looking deep down. On the other hand the interface is still difficult to use as you cannot see the keyboard, the first person view is imperfect as one looks down without seeing legs and feet. Small imperfections in the scenery or the scale of the objects seem to become more important as it stops the “suspension of disbelief“.

I guess it will get better, especially as there is a new Second Life in the making. Yet  I wonder whether a virtual headset version, even perfectly implemented, will attract that many more users. The immersion into another body and into artificial paradises appeal to a niche. We live in times of short attention spans and people love to integrate the digital closely into the ‘real’ physical environment, so mobile augmentation possibly has a future on a mass market, but this is not what this Second Life virtual experience is about. My guess is that virtual headsets will make user-generated virtual worlds even more appealing for the existing fan base, but they won’t convince the mainstream to embrace these environments – unless new applications and use cases are discovered.

Update:  I also noticed how important audio is in such a highly immersive environment. The Oculus makes you notice so much more of the virtual environment. It’s as if when you use one of your senses more, you also need using at least one other sense more intensely.

 

Imagine 3D-sensors…

… in your phone, and what you could do with it as a developer… Imagine the games, the education projects, consumer and business projects…. These are exciting times, as Google says about its Project Tango. Google has built a prototype Android smartphone that can learn and map the world around it – what would you do with it?


Seth Rosenblatt on CNET has pretty interesting background information. Movidius’ Remi El-Ouazzane explains in an interview how his chip firm is more than just another partner in Google’s mobile 3D-mapping project — it’s at the center of a revolution in how computers process visuals. The chips can be used far beyond smartphones and tablets: think wearables, robots, autonomous cars, drones…

Google itself mentions various possible applications: interior design, helping the visually impaired, but also immersive gaming – mixed reality style.

Weekend Reading: “news may be in decline, but insight is booming”

– On Fastcompany I read a story about Lara Setrakian and her site Syria Deeply. The site is ultra-focused and makes good use of infographics and video. It not only provides news but also context to make sense of it. They are working on new software to facilitate policy crowdsourcing. Technology could pay for the news, like a Bloomberg-terminal pays for the Bloomberg-journalism – such a terminal delivers not only well-structured news, but also services such as communication, secured mail, transaction, lots and lots of data – and is very expensive. As Setrakian says:

The news business may be down, but the insight industry is booming.

– On TechCrunch Gregory Ferenstein brings us Twitter Co-Founder Evan Williams Lays Out His Plan For The Future Of Media. A remarkable quote:

News in general doesn’t matter most of the time, and most people would be far better off if they spent their time consuming less news and more ideas that have more lasting import.

The post also refers to the research paper, “Does the Media Matter”, in which a team of economists found that getting a randomized group of citizens to read the Washington Post did nothing for “political knowledge, stated opinions, or turnout in post-election survey and voter data.” Medium tries to make publishing stuff easy, also for those who maybe have something very insipring to tell but don’t find the time nor have the inclination to devote lots of time for running their own blog and building an audience. Medium runs an intelligent algorithm that suggests stories, primarily based on how long users spend reading certain articles.

– Another way of applying technology to journalism is Google Glass. In July Sarah Hill explained in some detail on MediaShift how Glass will change the future of broadcast journalism. There are new tricks to be learned (how do you warn people you’re conducting an interview and not just chatting with someone during a conference), microphone issues but as she explains in Mediatwits it can be a kind of real time social backchannel. For Robert Scoble, on that same Mediatwits, it’s a new device category which will change media – he has been using Glass for several months now. Jeff Jarvis expects new eye-witness stuff being generated through Glass and similar devices. Robert Scoble also interviewed Mark Johnson, CEO of Zite and now a VP at CNN. As an information discovery specialist he wonders whether Glass/Google will be smart enough to give us really relevant information via Glass. It’s the future, but when will it happen?


Eric Scherer talks about Google Glass (and drones, and encryption) as a new tool for journalists and interviewed Tim Pool about how he uses Glass. Interesting is that Pool also uses a mini keyboard and the touch pad of a smartphone in combination with Glass.

Toward a Metaverse Future Society!

AvaCon announces:

AvaCon has exciting things planned for 2013!

We are working on new initiatives to connect and support the communities and people involved in co-creating and using the metaverse, including new events, a new membership-led community organization (coming soon!), and our latest call for proposals for the recently launched Metaverse Cultural Series.

Metaverse Cultural Series 2013

The Metaverse Cultural Series 2013 is a set of events featuring performances and lectures that highlight unique aspects of metaverse culture. The events will take place in multiple virtual world spaces and the series will showcase innovative artists, thinkers, performers, and academics whose work is on the forefront of exploring what it means to work, play, and live in the emerging metaverse.

If you are interested in performing or speaking in the Metaverse Cultural Series 2013, or hosting an event in your virtual space, we encourage you to submit your proposal at: http://avacon.org/blog/events/metaverse-cultural-series/

Hosts and performers will receive a $50 USD stipend for their participation in the program!

Metaverse Future Society – Coming Soon!

There are many places on the web where communities of interest gather around a particular technology or virtual world platform, but there are few places where those communities can come together to discuss the broader metaverse concept, where it converges with gaming and the web, and where we want it to go.

We envision a new kind of membership-driven organization where those passionate about the metaverse can help shape its future. Through issue advocacy, collaborative working groups, technical standards, and policy development, we can tackle the challenges of the fledgling metaverse today while also growing the career opportunities and professional skills of those working to create the platforms, content, and experiences for an exciting metaverse of tomorrow.

Stay tuned for more information about the Metaverse Future Society and how you can get involved!
Volunteer Opportunities & Open Staff Positions

AvaCon has exciting plans for the new year, and we’re on the lookout for people passionate about the metaverse and virtual worlds to help us showcase all of the terrific work being done in Second Life, Opensim, Unity3D, Open Wonderland, CloudParty, Utherverse and other metaverse-y platforms and technologies. We especially need volunteers with great organizing skills who love to meet and work with people in multiple worlds.

If this sounds like you, then join our organization today and help us help the people making the metaverse a reality! See our open positions and volunteer opportunities at: http://avacon.org/blog/positions/

Donations to AvaCon Now Tax Deductible

We are very pleased that AvaCon received formal 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status from the IRS as a public charity organization, so donations and sponsorships for AvaCon events and activities are now tax deductible!

It’s never too early to start planning for your next year’s taxes, so please consider giving a donation to support AvaCon’s mission as we work towards the growth and development of the metaverse, virtual worlds, augmented reality, and 3D immersive and virtual spaces.

Donate today at: http://avacon.org/blog/donate/

Best Wishes for a Happy New Year!

We want to personally wish you a very happy and prosperous New Year and we look forward to supporting, sharing and helping shape the future of the metaverse with you as we start an exciting 2013.

Sincerely,

Joyce Bettencourt, President
Chris Collins, Vice President
Kathey Fatica, Treasurer

Interesting. It’s not the first time efforts are being launched for this kind of metaverse-wide approach. I remember roadbooks being feverishly discussed, and of course we have MetaMeets and the folks around the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research. I think it’s neither too late nor too soon for this latest initiatieve – knowing some of the people involved, I’m sure new and passionating ideas will emerge and lead to new and unexpected projects.

‘Until Augmented Reality is part of the Operating System, it probably won’t be that useful for consumers’

Imagine you got someone before you who has a general interest in augmented reality. ‘Yeah, putting digital layers on top of my physical surroundings, I like that. Pretty cool, and hey, I got this fancy new smartphone.’ Which app would you recommend?

I asked the question on the Google+ Augmented Reality community page. I suggested Layar, Junaio or Wikitude. Professor Blair MacIntyre at Georgia Tech was kind enough to answer. He said that it depends on what the user wants to do – but those apps are not very generally useful. I must admit that this corresponds with my own appreciation: even though I’m a fan of the possibilities of Augmented Reality, I don’t have such a ‘wow’-feeling when I actually stare through my smartphone to find out where some restaurant is or to find some wikipedia-entry floating around. Often I get the feeling that Google Maps – especially the newest version on the iPhone 5 – is hard to beat (can we consider that as Augmented Reality?).

Anyway, here is what MacIntyre told me:

The fundamental problem with “the AR browsers” is that they impose a single User Interface on top of the data they display. So, if you want to build something that is different than just looking at some data or animated models (i.e.., virtually anything useful or interesting) you can’t easily do t with them. They are good for small things, and displaying bits of data.

Compare them to web browsers, where each site has its own look, feel and behavior. Sure, many are vanilla, but most aren’t.

That’s why we started working on Argon years ago as a research project. It’s coming along, and I expect more and more we will see AR integrated into apps and eventually Operating Systems.

Heretical hypothesis: Until AR is part of the Operating System, it probably won’t be that useful for consumers.

MacIntyre is project director of the augmented reality browser Argon, in this video he explains the ideas behind that browser:

A virtual worlds community going beyond virtual worlds?

Fleep Tuque, a major virtual worlds community expert, said on her Google+ page that AvaCon, the organizers of the Second Life Community Convention (SLCC) plans to include the open-source version of Second Life, OpenSim, and other platforms, in the upcoming gatherings (which will get another name). On the AvaCon website it seems they’re looking for volunteers.

In a famous blogpost Tuque previously explained that people who care about the future of the Metaverse need to move beyond Second Life. There was no edition 2012 of the SLCC as there was disagreement between Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life, and AvaCon.

All of which is very interesting as the community conventions were highly creative gatherings, with keynotes from visionaries such as Philip Rosedale and Ray Kurzweil. Most of all, these conventions inspired people who are actually building new layers on top of our reality and who are part of a digital culture avant-garde.

This is how AvaCon defines its mission:

Our mission is to promote the growth, enhancement, and development of the metaverse, virtual worlds, augmented reality, and 3D immersive and virtual spaces. We hold conventions and meetings to promote educational and scientific inquiry into these spaces, and to support organized fan activities, including performances, lectures, art, music, machinima, and much more. Our primary goal is to connect and support the diverse communities and practitioners involved in co-creating and using virtual worlds, and to educate the public and our constituents about the emerging ecosystem of technologies broadly known as the metaverse.

But what is the Metaverse exactly? This is what Wikipedia says:

The Metaverse is our collective online shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space, including the sum of all virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the internet. The word metaverse is a portmanteau of the prefix “meta” (meaning “beyond”) and “universe” and is typically used to describe the concept of a future iteration of the internet, made up of persistent, shared, 3D virtual spaces linked into a perceived virtual universe.

So we talk here about the sum of all virtual worlds but also about augmented reality and even ‘the internet’, which seems to be quite a broad definition. Maybe that’s normal as the mobile revolution, ubiquitous computing, the internet of things are integrating ‘the internet’ with the ‘physical space’.

I do hope AvaCon will embrace this broad definition. (Some) people in virtual worlds not only want to export their creations into other virtual places, they also want to turn bits into atoms through 3D-printing (read about Second Life artisan Maxi Gossamer in the New World Notes).

It also makes sense to go beyond virtual worlds (which does not mean abandoning them) as we know them and not just beyond Second Life. In essence these virtual worlds create the illusion of 3D on a flat screen. But what about this? Thesis Prize Winner at the Harvard Graduate School of Design 2011 Greg Tran:

Greg believes that ”People assume we have digital 3D already but this is a fallacy. When you rotate your model on ascreen or watch a Pixar animation is actually just a digital 2d REPRESENTATION of material 3d.What people are calling 3DTV and 3D movies are just a form of shallow depth or Bas Relief, not true digital 3D. The critical/operative imperative of the digital 3D is that there is a subject moving through space. The digital 3D is in its beginning stages, but will evolve in a similar way to the digital 2D. The digital 2D began as a specialized, singular medium which was largely used for documentation purposes, but has evolved towards personalization, interactivity, fluency and distribution.”

Or what about telepresence through iPads mounted on light structures? Or about avatars combined with robotics?

One of the lessons of the latest MetaMeets conference was that it’s very worthwhile to gather people who are interested in augmented reality, mobile applications, Kinect and Kinect-style sensors, and virtual worlds (plural). I hope AvaCon will succeed in doing this on an even bigger scale and that they will embed their virtual worlds focus into a larger vision.

Read also: The Metaverse is Dead (and the discussion following the post).

Hat tip to Daniel Voyager for posting about Fleep Tuque on Google+ (did I mention I’m kind of addicted to Google+?)

Virtual communities on Google+

Getting tons of invites for communities on Google Plus. A limited selection: communities for Digital Culture (look for Ted Newcomb to get an invite), Second Life (288 members already), Second Life Arts (135 members), Opensim Virtual (‘First there was Second Life, then there was Freedom), MetaMeets (3D internet conference), Augmented Reality, 3D printing (1,307 members), Ingress (the Google alternate reality game) (7,193 members) and other Ingress-communities (for the resistance, the enlightened, for various countries…).

Google+ also offers a selection of interesting communities and of course allows you to search for specific interests: fond out more at Google+ communities.

There are discussions about whether the discussion threads should be indexed, tagged (of should we use hashtages), privacy, big corporates, but I definitely have the impression it increases the activity on Google+ and makes it far more valuable.

Apps on top of the world: another Minecraft-in-Reality

In an earlier post about MetaMeets I briefly mentioned the Dutch artist Sander Veenhof with his eye-opening and often subversive usage of augmented reality. In yet another post we referred to Minecraft Reality, an app which allows you to position constructions built in the virtual Minecraft-environment into the physical world. Sander however is more radical: he lets you create Minecraft-styled constructions immediately layered upon the physical world through an augmented reality app.

Download the “Layar” app on your smartphone, then click ‘layers’ button and search for “virtual sculpturing”. Or have a look at the virtual sculpturing page.

Follow Sander Veenhof on Twitter and also have a look at the Twitter lists he follows.