Big tech in love with VR and AR, so we update our mindmap

Crazy times for virtual reality, or so it seems. ‘It’s the future’, people at Facebook say. Users will not only be able to experience immersive Facebook-experiences, but will also create them, Eric David posts on SiliconAngle. ‘Users’ means not just developer-types, but the average user. However, it is totally unclear when virtual Facebook-apps would hit the market.

While Facebook executives dream about immersing all of us in their product, some people at Apple share that dream for their own products. Apple was awarded a patent titled “Head-Mounted Display Apparatus for Retaining a Portable Electronic Device with Display,” which details a virtual reality headset powered by an iPhone or iPod, according to Apple Insider. The device does look not fundamentally different from other systems strapping your smartphones on your face such as Google’s Cardboard or Samsung Gear VR (powered by Oculus).

But we may still have to wait a long time before Apple presents a consumer-ready device, and that device could also be something rather different from Oculus and be more along the line of Microsoft’s HoloLens – as one could think looking at patents filed two years ago, BusinessInsider says.

Since I started a wiki mind map about Oculus Rift developments, quite some people added useful stuff to it. I now added these latest developments (use the icon with the arrow under the map to maximize):

Create your own mind maps at MindMeister

Oculus/Facebook wants to track your fingers and environment

In case you still have any doubts: virtual reality is hot. News from the Digits blog (The Wall Street Journal) by Timothy Hay: Oculus/Facebook bought two start-upsNimble VR, which was formerly known as 3Gear Systems (San Francisco), they are specialized in skeletal hand-tracking using tiny cameras, and Swedish start-up 13th Lab which uses cameras making 3-D recreations of various physical environments.

Here you see some magic from Nimble VR (video from the Kickstarter Campaign). Notice the Minecraft game and the school examples but of course there is much more in this:

13th Lab shows some nice videos about SLAM or Simultaneous localization and mapping. This is the computational problem of constructing or updating a map of an unknown environment while simultaneously keeping track of an agent’s location within it. This is one example where the technology is used for the recreation of a stairway:

This is a game application by 13th Lab:

The post on Digits mentions also various companies in the VR industry getting venture investment such as Survios (resulting from Project Holodeck at the University of Southern California), Jaunt (toolset for cinematic VR) and Virtuix (a company founded by the Belgian Jan Goetgeluk and specializing in a VR treadmill, Omni).

I’m pretty sure that the way we interact with the digital world and how we integrate the digital into the physical is about to change dramatically.

How one gets tired of virtual worlds

Reacting on my previous post about Second Life veterans uniting, draxfiles asked on this site and on Facebook:

Interesting how some folks get “tired” of a world unlimited in its creative possibilities, a world that is continuously mind-boggling in the sense that folks make awesome things and yes: a LOT of them are a lot better than what was done in the hype days. The creative forces that are marveling at the tools that Linden churns out [xp tools, ALM model, etc] and use them = I am in awe of them and the monthly video show is not nearly enough to cover this bustling life. I simply do not understand how you get tired of it: it is like saying “I am tired of this pencil and this piece of paper!” :) Come on the show Roland and help those of us [in the audience of the show] who are pushing the envelope every day understand what this means!

Well here we go. Of course I agree that new tools are making new things possible (such as using Second Life on a mobile device or on old machines), and more is to come when Oculus Rift will release its VR-headset on the broader market.
However, people get tired because well, that’s life: people evolve, move on to new jobs, expand their families and end up with less time and energy. But there is more: Second Life and virtual worlds in 2007/2008 were technologically speaking less sophisticated, but there was this feeling that ‘this is the new thing’: the online world was evolving from 2D to 3D, and websites or social media feeds would become just a part of this encompassing 3D-metaverse.

Embassies, corporations, news wires and other media, religious institutions entered Second Life because it was the future. Then we all know what happened: the end of the hype, mass traction not materializing, corporations and institutions did not find out how to use this new space. The new headlines now claimed that Second Life was dying or that is was just “a niche of a niche”.

While it’s not correct to say Second Life is dying (I hope), I think it’s true to say that it’s a niche-activity. Will it finally gain traction during the Oculus (or similar devices) era? I’m not sure. People are tired and stressed out: this is an era of fast dipping into media feeds (Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp, SnapChat… ) not of long immersive media-experiences (at least when you’re not a young student). This argument has nothing to do with technological breakthroughs but with how we structure time in this first part of the 21st century.

So, when we speak about people getting tired of immersive worlds, this is what I mean: we have such limited time and right now and quite possibly for a long time these worlds will remain a niche industry. While you can probably find a job quite easily as a Facebook-marketing expert, I’m afraid it will be difficult to market your skills as a Second Life guru.

This being said, yes I’m impressed by the new energy and developments which are to be found in virtual reality and virtual worlds (both concepts being rather different). So, can one be impressed and tired at the same time? I think so.

Second Life veterans unite

I remember, in the good old days of the Metanomics show in Second Life, that we discussed a study about what happens when people have to leave a virtual world. You get a virtual diaspora, groups of people settling in new virtual worlds, and eventually you get tensions between those groups and people who already ‘live’ there.

Second Life is not closing down or forcing huge groups out, but there is this other phenomenon that people get tired after a few years. They look for something else and lose interest, or at least they reduce the time spent in Second Life. However, for many of those ‘old’ residents, Second Life changed their lives in some way, and they feel a need to meet up with their old friends and former fellow-residents.

That’s what happens on Facebook, where veterans launched the group Second Lifers for Life. People compile lists of names, remember those who passed away, discuss what they’re doing these days. Maybe it’s not really like a diaspora but more like former classmates meeting again. There is even a little bit of drama, with people complaining about the initiative and telling others they should look at the future, not the past. But then again, maybe it’s by meeting again that new projects will be born.

Understanding Media by Understanding Facebook

Professor Owen R. Youngman teaches a great course about Understanding Media by Understanding Google, but maybe he should consider a follow-up: Understanding Media by Understanding Facebook. Ravi Somaiya explains in The New York Times how Facebook is changing the way its users consume journalism. For quite some time media experts have been talking about the ‘unbundling’ of news – the fact that people no longer want to buy complete newspapers or magazines, but focus on individual stories which they find through search and social networks. What they ‘consume’ is determined at least partially by the algorithms used by Google and Facebook. It seems that the unbundling is happening right now.

Aaron Sankin posted on The Kernel a story about how Facebook is ‘wrecking political news’. In his opinion, the ‘trending topics’ feature on Facebook causes media to surf along whatever is ‘trending’ in order to attract the crowds they need for their traffic and advertizing revenues. Not only the choice of the topics is debatable, also the fact that stories are published in a hurry in order to benefit from the momentum leads to particularly bad journalism.

These are issues which should be discussed in both courses I’m following right now: the above mentioned Understanding Media by Understanding Google but also the Connected Courses which studies education and web culture. Facebook is changing online culture in very important but not always very visible ways. The world of blogs, RSS-feeds, social bookmarks and probably even web-based search is increasingly being replaced by a very different environment dominated by mobile social networks.

Mindmapping Oculus Rift

I’m still working on the Oculus Rift coverage and will meet users and developers. I made a wiki mind map (so you can add, change to it) about Oculus, using sources such as the Oculus subreddit and Wired Magazine.

Scanning the reviews and reactions it seems obvious that Virtual Reality is back again. The application go far beyond gaming and new exciting developments can be expected such as haptic feedback and eye tracking.

So here is my fledgling mind map:

Create your own mind maps at MindMeister

The Augmentationist Weekly | Building, Spaces, Learning

logoThe latest edition of the weekly Augmentationist. You can read it here and subscribe at the right-hand side of this site. In the collection of interesting links some great insights about spaces and sharing spaces, learning and Massive Open Online Courses, and about “building” and “coding”.

Friday, August 30, 2013

What this newsletter is about

A group of co-learners, inspired by Howard Rheingold, studies how information technology can augment human intellect. Our discussions are dispersed through various social media and closed online venues. In this newsletter I try to give an overview of the discussions in our network. I also include brief comments on related stuff elsewhere.

The historical proposal for the WWW, in 1989

Who says newsletters are about new news? Keeping an eye on Howard Rheingold’s bookmarks I found this gem: the proposal (HTMLized) by Tim Berners-Lee for the World Wide Web. As he explains: “an attempt to persuade CERN management that a global hypertext system was in CERN’s interests. Note that the only name I had for it at this time was “Mesh” — I decided on “World Wide Web” when writing the code in 1990.”

What Second Life Got Right

Mitch Wagner is an adorable journalist and blogger who also happens to be an expert in Second Life. While he believes that Second Life today is as retro as manual typewriters and vinyl records, he explains in internet evolution that what the people of Linden Lab (the company behind that user-generated virtual world)  got right is the sense of presence in a shared space and time. It’s absolutely true that at least in that regard Second Life offers a magical experience. As for videochat (Google Hangouts most notably): this comes very close, but as Wagner says, many people are reluctant to appear ‘on camera’. Read also a comment on the article by virtual worlds specialist Wagner James Au on New World Notes.   Or have a look at this article about the 3D dreams of Skype. 

Digital Humanities is about building things

Professor Stephen Ramsay about Digital Humanities: “But if you are not making anything, you are not — in my less-than-three-minute opinion — a digital humanist.” Knowing how to code is a big positive (but then again you can be part of a building team without coding skills). But what is “building”? Mind you, he said that in 2011 during a three-minute presentation. But he elaborated on the theme later on and explained: “All the technai of Digital Humanities — data mining, xml encoding, text analysis, gis, Web design, visualization, programming, tool design, database design, etc — involve building; only a few of them require programming, per se.”

So he’s casting a wider net: yes, learning how to code changes your view on the world – but we can say the same about learning how to speak Arabic or Mandarin Chinese and about all major learning projects. So it might be a very good idea to focus on  the shift from “reading” to “making” as changing your world view.

Hat tip to Bruce Sterling for mentioning the Digital Humanities talk on Beyond the Beyond.

Collaborative Exploration

Via our Peeragogy in Action community on G+ I learned about Collaborative Explorations: Creative Thinking for All — Fall 2013, offered in collaboration with the Creative and Critical Thinking Program at the University of Massachusetts Boston. ‘Although massively online open courses (MOOCs) promise wide access to knowledge and new learning communities, there is still a need for more intimate, connective and deep inquiries. Collaborative Explorations or “moderate-sized open online collaborative learning” are a response to these learning desires.’ More on G+ (a recording of a first Hangout).

How MOOCs Will Evolve In The Physical World

Some interesting thoughts in Forbes by former theater producer Giovanni Rodriguez about spaces and Massive Open Online Courses, online and offline. ““Massive Online Offline Communities” seems more like it.  And unlike the online communities of the past, these communities are learning communities, driven by the new lifelong modality of transformative experience. Expect a land grab for branding and positioning.  The disruption in education is just beginning, and the players are just becoming visible.”


Twitter and Facebook: what’s the difference? Facebook introduced hashtags, Twitter makes it easier tofollow conversations by introducing threads and organizing those in a chronological order. Om Malik analyzes the motivations and what it means on GigaOM. And yes, it’s a big deal, not only for a Twitter IPO, but more general. Malik:  “What is going on? Well, how about the standardization of all social platforms around the concept of objects and comments, especially on mobile.”

Cloud Party needs a party and some fun games

There is a new kid in the town of the virtual environments: Cloud Party. I visited the place regularly since Wagner James Au posted about it a few weeks ago on New World Notes. He explains:

Cloud Party is a new 3D virtual world on Facebook now in open Beta that’s described as “a world built by people like you”. It just apparently went online, so I’ve only explored a few minutes, but as you can see above, it’s got the look and feel of Second Life circa 2003. That’s no surprise, because Second Life co-founder Cory Ondrejka (who’s now with Facebook), and Cryptic Studio’s ex-CTO Bruce Rogers, who founded a startup called Walletin with Cory before also joining Facebook with Ondrejka, are investors and advisors to Cloud Party.

There’s a wiki with tutorials for residents and builders. People are building pretty awesome stuff:

a view on a cloud party world

The world of Lilli Thompson at Cloud Party

I enter the new environment on a daily basis as it fascinates me. I can do this in our newsroom, the firewall does not prevent me from entering Cloud Party, it is effortless as it’s just using an url. There seem to be always some people at the Beginner Zone, where avid builders experiment continuously. It’s exciting to watch, as it looks like the beginning of a kind of new Second Life. I visited the forums, one of them is called “What lessons from other virtual worlds do you want Cloud Party Inc. to know about?”

I did have some lessons in mind, but I refrained from posting them there as they are not really very constructive. However, I did react on a post by Wagner James Au on the New World Notes, about SL artists like Aristide Depres creating interactive experiences in Cloud Party. This was my reaction:

It’s fascinating and yes, the fact that it could eventually interest some Facebook-users is great, as is the fact that no downloads are needed.

However, I guess I’m still a bit traumatized by the Blue Mars experience, the Lively-failure and the Metaplace shut-down.

As it happens, many of the users of Blue Mars and Metaplace were already part of the unfortunately smallish group of people who are interested in open-ended, user-generated virtual environments.

Often they belonged to the even smaller group of ‘builders’ in those environments.

However, at the end someone asks tough questions about ROI and things like that, and projects which only gain traction among some hundreds of participants are not very likely to be interesting business-wise.

So, visiting Cloud Party and counting there about twenty to thirty people, I have my doubts, even though the project is still very young. Of course, I do hope I’m wrong and that the project will succeed.

So my first reaction was rather hesitant, but I’ve to confess I’m going more often to Cloud Party these days than to other virtual worlds such as Second Life. I had some interesting in-world discussions (which continued via Facebook), helping me to reflect about my stance regarding virtual worlds.
I’m still fascinated by this stuff, but no longer convinced it’s the cutting edge of the web or the internet, and not convinced at all it’ll gain much traction – which explains why my blogging about virtual worlds has slowed down considerably.

What really interests me is how virtual stuff can find its way to the physical world (via 3D printing or augmented reality-style mobile apps for instance). These days it’s all about local, mobile and social. While these open-ended environments are very social (but not necessarily involving the people you do know already in the physical world), as yet they are neither local nor mobile.

There is somehow a link between Cloud Party and the physical world because participants are linked through Facebook and their ‘real identities’, but what lacks is a reason for non-building and non-scripting people (let’s say the overwhelming majority of mankind and the people on Facebook) to give it a try. I guess that the people launching these worlds are software wizards, and they tend to sympathize with other coding and building enthusiasts, which is all right of course – as long as they don’t forget most people don’t consider building or coding as party-time. I remember statistics about Second Life, showing that a majority of residents are socializers rather than builders, and Cloud Party urgently needs something to attract those socializers – by organizing events maybe (no, I did not mean a workshop about Blender, Maya or 3Ds Max), or by promoting some simple but cleverly designed game. Maybe, at the very least, they should introduce some more gamification elements to incite people to learn how to build and script.

Race against the machine meets radical transparency

In the book Race against the machine, written by the MIT-researchers Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, one of the examples of the exponential technological development is the self-driving Google car. Google claims to have safely completed over 200,000 miles of computer-led driving, even though there is some discussion about this.

Of course there is scepticism about the self-driving car (read also the post on TPM Idealab). Who is ultimately responsible if anything goes wrong? There must be some human to blame, no?

In Race Against the Machine  the vision is optimistic. It is told how in 2004 the first DARPA Grand Challenge (in an unpopulated desert) ended miserably. In 2010 Google could announce that it had modified Toyota Priuses into fully autonomous cars. In only a few years time something seemingly impossible became possible.

So maybe that in a not too distant future we’ll consider automated truck driving normal while we will deem the practice of humans driving dangerous trucks as foolishly dangerous. But then again, isn’t driving a car or a truck a most passionate act, and can we even imagine to make computer driving the default option?

Information technology could change other things as well on our roads, even without self-driving cars. When the Internet of Things turns objects into endless streams of communication, it would be very odd to continue with weird interventions such as random speed limit controls – and even weirder, the announcement and localization of those controls by the authorities themselves.  What we can expect are cars which constantly send out streams of information, triggering alerts when speed limits and other regulations are being violated. Those alerts could be easily communicated and the offending drivers would pay the consequences or would at least have to justify their driving behavior.

But do we actually want this to happen? Of course we can locate almost each and every one of us by way of smartphone signals, but monitoring this information and sending it to authorities seems unacceptable – except for very specific situations. Once again there is this notion of freedom and something “typically human” which seems to be challenged. Even though one could argue that hundreds of thousands of tragic traffic accidents could be avoided by combinations of computer driven cars and real-time monitoring, one can be sure that there will be stiff resistance by those claiming that fundamental privacy rights and other freedoms are being sacrificed in a kind of Big Brother system.

The wider discussion is about “radical transparency“, which not only demands that corporations and authorities are transparent, but that transparence would be the “normal” situation for every citizen. It seems to be the underlying philosophy of Facebook for instance. The idea is that such transparency would make the diversity of lifestyles obvious and as such increase tolerance. Media expert danah boyd discusses this for instance on her blog apophenia, discussing these quotes from Facebook-founder Zuckerberg:

“We always thought people would share more if we didn’t let them do whatever they wanted, because it gave them some order.” – Zuckerberg, 2004
“You have one identity… The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly… Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity” – Zuckerberg, 2009


She explains her position also in this recent video:

Webstock ’12: danah boyd – Culture of Fear + Attention Economy = ?!?! from Webstock on Vimeo.

What is fascinating is that these discussions are not about some distant future. All these things, the ubiquitous social networks, the internet of things, self-driving cars, the demand for radical transparency, the viral spreading of fear are realities – sometimes in very early phases, but realities nevertheless.