Glorious Geocities homepage archaeology

Cameron Askin has created a wonderfully giddy collage of the animated GIFs and other mad decorations that completely covered our Geocities homepages back on the 90s. And follow the links to see archived pages care of the WayBack Machine too. I wonder if he used that Geocities Torrent.

A love letter to the Internet of oldCameron’s World
In an age where we interact primarily with branded and marketed web content, Cameron’s World is a tribute to the lost days of unrefined self-expression on the Internet. This project recalls the visual aesthetics from an era when it was expected that personal spaces would always be under construction.

I came across this via a recent B3ta newsletter, but this animated tribute to clashing colour schemes and Comic Sans and Times New Roman has been blasting away since 2015, going by the links to all the press about the project Cameron has collected.

Revisit everything wonderful about Geocities with one impeccable websiteFast Company

Travel back in time to the best and weirdest GeoCities sitesVice

RIP GeoCities: what the internet looked liked before the internet was coolIt’s Nice That

Gaze deeply into this loving tribute to the heyday of Geocities web designAV Club

Cameron’s WorldBoingBoing

Hundreds of Geocities images organized neatlyHyperallergic

This nostalgia project is keeping GeoCities aliveThe Daily Dot

Witness a glorious graveyard of Geocities GIFsThe Next Web

Think today’s internet is weird? Check out this madness from back in the dayHuffington Post

Electric futures

Given the current climate crisis, you can understand why most visions of the future are quite negative. Over a hundred years ago, however, the future was imagined much more positively.

The future imagined in Albert Robida’s La vie électrique (1890)The Public Domain Review
Who participated in the first video date? A good couple for candidacy in this regard are Georges Lorris and Estelle Lacombe, who meet via “téléphonoscope” in Albert Robida’s 1890 novel Le Vingtième siècle: la vie électrique in which he imagines “the electric life” of the future. Adding a visual component to two recent technologies, the telephone (1876) and the phonograph (1877), this device lets scattered families in the year 1956 reunite around a virtual dinner table. For the lovebirds Lorris and Lacombe, the téléphonoscope facilitates their unapproved liaison in an immunologically fraught world. (And, for those without a beau, it also offers a service akin to on-demand streaming.) This proto Zoom / Netflix hybrid is just one of several prescient predictions in Robida’s novel.

Taking in the evening air.
A busy neighbourhood.

Living in a virtual democracy

My reintroduction to Second Life has been quite gradual, as I didn’t stray very far from the SL Book Club at first. But a comment there one evening about the Confederation of Democratic Simulators caught my attention, so much so that I now call it home.

So what is the CDS? It describes itself very simply as the oldest democracy in Second Life, but there’s more to it than that.

Confederation of Democratic Simulators
All are welcome to the CDS to visit, explore, and become a part of our dynamic community. Our estate consists of six regions that have loosely based Germanic, Tuscan, Alpine, and Mediterranean themes, representing different historical periods.

Accompanying its website, there’s a discussion forum, a Flickr group and a Facebook page. There are also a couple of entries in the Second Life Destination Guide.

The Confederation of Democratic SimulatorsSecond Life Destination Guide
The Confederation of Democratic Simulators (CDS), founded in 2004, is a community-operated by and for its citizens. … Land ownership in the CDS means citizenship, with the right to vote, run for office, and have a say in the direction and projects of the regions.

It’s a vibrant, active community that regularly comes together to celebrate such events as International Women’s Day, Oktoberfest and Dia de los Muertos.

Celebrating International Women’s Day in Second LifeInara Pey: Living in a Modemworld
The theme for this year’s IWD is #EachForEqual, a call for gender equality, and the day will be marked in Second Life at Celebrating International Women’s Day in SL, a series of events throughout the day organised and hosted by the Confederation of Democratic Simulators (CDS). These will comprise music, dance, live performances and interactive activities.

What marks this place as a little different from the sprawling, homogeneous Linden Homes estates in Bellisseria is its emphasis on democratic, resident-led project development, with its citizens being encouraged to play an active role in the political life of the community. This has been the case from the very start, as this introduction to the CDS from 2007 clearly shows.

Playing democracy in a virtual worldYouTube
The Confederation of Democratic Simulators is an old institution in SecondLife. Are they still alive and well? Is democracy in virtual worlds a delusion or can it be achieved? Newbie virtual journalist Draxtor Despres meets up with residents and administrators to find out how much free will can be handled by a simulated system….

Transcript of my lecture in Second Life on democracy in virtual worldsDavid Orban
Here is the transcript of my inaugural lecture of the Craedo Auditorium in Colonia Nova in Second Life. Welcome to this seminar about “The theory and practice of democracy in virtual worlds”. I want to thank CARE, CRAEDO, and the Confederation of Democratic Simulators for inviting me to give this talk at the inauguration of this auditorium.

It all started with a sim modelled after the town Rothenburg in Bavaria.

What became Neualtenburg was later renamed Neufreistadt.

Confederation of Democratic SimulatorsSecond Life Wiki
The Confederation of Democratic Simulators, CDS in short, is the latest phase in the project that started as the city of Neualtenburg in the mainland sim Anzere, then moved to the private island “Neualtenburg” and after a split-up of the two founders with the rest of the population, the citizens continued under the name “Neufreistadt”. When the project became more than just a single simulator, the name Confederation of Democratic Simulators was adopted for the government and the project in general.

NeufreistadtSecond Life Wiki
Since its inception as a group-owned tiered mainland sim in Anzere, the government model followed a rather long discussion period held mostly on the Linden Lab forums, for a period of about 10 weeks and involving around 20 people interested in jointly presenting a project to Haney Linden, who raised a challenge on Aug 31st, 2004, for projects to “preserve the snow sims”. A proposal based on the forum discussions was elaborated by Ulrika Zugzwang and presented by her and Kendra Bancroft for appreciation; after Haney approved it, the forum discussion moved towards establishing a constitution, a provisory government, and a layout of the city to be built, inspired on the Bavarian city of Rothenburg, and adhering to the “theme” of a medieval Bavarian setting. […]

Linden Lab removed the support to any similar projects after much public claims of favoritism, and a decision was made to move the whole city into a private island, called “Neualtenburg”.

That sim was soon joined by others.

Official blog of Colonia Nova
Currently, the CDS consists of one region, Neufreistadt, with another region in the planning process, Colonia Nova. Neufreistadt is one of Second Life’s oldest resident-governed regions and is widely known for its unique combination of politics, fog, and Bavarian architecture. Colonia Nova, a Roman themed simulator, is currently under development.

Locus Amoenus
Locus Amoenus is the 4th sim of the CDS, which will be built this summer. It will be located west to our Roman sim Colonia Nova, and again, the theme is roman. Main differences are that this sim will be more pastoral in essence, not a city core – and with a sea shore and quay.

This project has more history than I can get my head around. I’m not going to attempt to summarise all the chronologies and controversies here, but to give you an indication of some of the incentives and drivers behind the project, I found this from 2004.

Why discussing governments is so hard…Gwyneth Llewelyn
[T]here is no “easy” way to do it, if you just have a monolithical group with a few team leaders. What happens if the team leader gives up? Or gets angry with the group? Or “sells out” the land? All these questions pop up every time a fantastic project comes to an end because its original proposers, for one reason or another, simply “go away”.

One alternative, as envisioned by the Neualtenburg group, is having a form to “rotate” the leadership of the group, assign people different roles in mantaining the themed sim, get rules for what can be done and what cannot, and so on. The important part to remember here is change. People change, SL changes, the city should change as well. Monolithic group structures do not deal well with change. No matter how good the “Utopia” is, if there is a change, you need to adapt to change. It’s pointless to remain stubborn and insist that you want to “resist change” – SL is not different than RL in that aspect. You don’t want to change – you die.

And this is from 2005.

Neualtenburg – SL’s most hated projectGwyneth Llewelyn
All these issues make sense from a RL point of view: if you want to organise something and make it enduring, the best way we frail humans know to achieve that purpose, is having a democratically elected association of people to work together. That’s what Neualtenburg is about – a project which belongs to the whole group, and not just to a few “group officers”. It seems to be working. The currently elected “president” of the Representative Assembly – the law-passing body of the City Government – is neither a founding member, has no building skills whatsoever, is not an officer of the group, and has not contributed tier or money to the project This is completely alien to the whole concept of Second Life – either from the anarchistic or the capitalist group. And, thus, being alien, the project is viewed with serious distrust.

As with any kind of democracy, you can’t please all the people all the time. This is from last year.

The Confederation of Democratic Simulators – When democracy…failsThis Island SL
Wandering around the CDS, the place looks good enough, with public amenities, public footpaths and public buildings. However dig deeper and get into the whole political landscape of the CDS, you find the SL democratic equivalent of nepotism. Friends voted in by the RA into places of power within the two commissions. Friends voted into places of power, even though those friends have no clue whatsoever about what that position entails.

Setbacks and infighting notwithstanding, the community has persevered. It’s now certainly a larger, more detailed environment than it was before, with buildings being redeveloped and more regions being added (and with still more to come).

Neufreistadt – The new Antiquariat buildingMizou’s Second Life
This building in Neufreistadt was a replacement of an earlier built dating back to the creation of Neufreistadt. I rebuilt it in 2018 and you can visit it on the Marketplatz in Neufreistadt and familiarise yourself with the history of Confederation of Democratic Simulators.

The MonasterySecond Life Destination Guide
When consciousness first dawned, men and women were equally the two sides of human-ness. In reverence and longing for that balance long since lost, this Monastery is built as a place of remembrance for what may yet again return. The Monastery is based loosely on the “real life” Abbey of St Mary on the tiny Scottish island of Iona.

It’s interesting to compare Draxtor’s admittedly low-res video from 2007 above with his return in 2020, below — a testament to the community’s longevity.

Made in Second Life – Holiday StoriesYouTube
Happy holidays from Second Life! In this special edition of “Made in Second Life,” we hear how several community members are experiencing the holidays in the virtual world as they come together remotely to celebrate amidst the global pandemic.

Starting at around the 2:11 mark, Rosie Gray introduces a wintry CDS and showcases how they mark the change in seasons and celebrate the holidays.

And what excellent timing, to stumble upon that snowy video now, almost exactly a year later, as the weather in both RL and SL gets a little chillier.

Gone? Not really

I’ve just been reading on the internet that Pamela Paul, the editor of The New York Times Book Review, has written a new book.

100 Things We’ve Lost to the InternetPamela Paul
[A] captivating record, enlivened with illustrations, of the world before cyberspace—from voicemails to blind dates to punctuation to civility. There are the small losses: postcards, the blessings of an adolescence largely spared of documentation, the Rolodex, and the genuine surprises at high school reunions. But there are larger repercussions, too: weaker memories, the inability to entertain oneself, and the utter demolition of privacy.

Not really, but go on.

What does tech take from us? Meet the writer who has counted 100 big lossesThe Guardian
“There are a lot of terrible things to say about the internet,” she says. “What I wanted to focus on was not so much all of those doomsday scenarios, although they exist, but to look at all of these forces and say: ‘What does this mean for what we do in our daily lives – from the moment we wake up to the iPhone alarm to the moment when we’re trying to fall asleep at night and we can’t because we’re like: ‘Oh my God, there’s this newsletter that arrives at 11pm, let me just see what it says’? What does it actually mean down here at the level of how we live?”

It’s hard to read that article (about a book I wouldn’t have heard about if it wasn’t for the internet) and not respond with simply, “Ok boomer, whatever.” Yes, the internet’s changed many aspects of society, from book selling to banking, and yes, my predominant response to the web these days is one of disappointment. But I’m not sure many things have been lost, as such. We still have options. We can still make different choices.

She sounds a little pessimistic. Perhaps she should read this.

Pessimists Archive
Welcome to Pessimists Archive, a project created to jog our collective memories about the hysteria, technophobia and moral panic that often greets new technologies, ideas and trends.

There are sections that mark the worrying introduction of television and computing amongst others (Pamela Paul bemoaned the loss of civility, above. That went years ago, apparently), but the archive starts way back in 1858.

TelegraphPessimists Archive
It was humanity’s first taste of mass communications, and immediately triggered the same concerns about information overload, frivolous communications, loss of privacy, and moral corruption that today we blame on the internet.

There are eight newspaper clippings about telegraphs, including one that claimed “global telegraphy could screw with earths currents and disorder the universe.” But there are 65 clippings about bicycles, and even 17 about teddy bears.

Perhaps Pamela Paul needs to be reminded that being pessimistic about a new thing is not itself a new thing.

We’ve sadly not reached peak NFT yet

None of this makes sense. It didn’t make sense back in March when I first tried to get my head around it all, and I’m none the wiser now.

Miramax is suing Tarantino over Pulp Fiction NFT auctionQuartz
Earlier this month, Tarantino announced plans to auction off unique digital versions of items from the 1994 cult classic, including scanned copies of script pages for seven scenes that didn’t make the final cut. The “secret” NFTs will only be viewable by whoever purchases them. But here’s the five-dollar shake: Miramax claims these NFTs are not Tarantino’s to sell.

Interpol and David Lynch release 2011 collaboration as limited NFT seriesNME
The New York band joined forces with the renowned Twin Peaks director for their 2011 Coachella performance, during which they combined Lynch’s I Touch A Red Button Man short film with their 2010 single ‘Lights’. Fans can now own the unique piece of work, with a limited series of eight NFTs up for grabs through the new Lynch x Interpol website. The non-fungible tokens include “newly recorded versions of ‘Lights’ joining Lynch’s engrossing animations”.

A fake Banksy sold for $330K is a perfect symbol of a wild NFT marketThe Next Web
There are numerous reports of NFT fraudsters selling fake artworks, stealing credit card information, and hacking into cryptocurrency accounts. Perhaps the most notorious example yet is this week’s sale of a fake Banksy NFT. […] As well as not looking like a Banksy, the piece was reportedly unsigned and hadn’t been authenticated by the artist’s agency. The true mastermind may forever remain a mystery. Whoever they may be, their ruse has further exposed the risks of buying NFTs.

Boy, 12, makes £290,000 in non-fungible tokens with digital whale artThe Guardian
Benyamin Ahmed’s collection of pixelated artworks called Weird Whales went viral during the school holidays. His success may be a harbinger of the digital business models that could disrupt the banking sector. His father, Imran, a software developer, described the artwork as similar to “digital Pokémon cards” and said they had been a big success because collectors realised their historical significance.

Their “historical significance”??

We’re virtually there already

It’s great to hear Draxtor bringing a little pragmatism to the metaverse debate in this interview with PC Gamer.

Virtual worlds are already better than the metaverse will ever bePC Gamer
For seven years Drax has been documenting the smaller, more personal side of the Second Life community, one he tells me has continued to thrive even as Second Life largely receded from the public eye. His documentaries focus on the ways people use Second Life to overcome disability; explore how the Black Lives Matter movement manifested in the game; or simply record regular book clubs held inside Second Life. […]

As Drax notes, total physical immersion is almost besides the point: “The secret sauce of [Second Life] is community. Loads of people feel completely immersed although they have no headset. I am personally psyched about where headset tech goes but Silicon Valley needs to understand that for a lot of people, this does not mean an increased sense of being there. The level of perceived immersion has to do with what people contribute to their communities”.

And here’s someone else who thinks a more real metaverse is already here.

Lessons from social media’s predecessors

The Online Safety Bill is a proposed Act of the Parliament intended to improve internet safety.

UK online safety bill could set tone for global social media regulationThe Guardian
Even before the arrival of Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, social media companies were feeling the heat from regulators and politicians. It is white-hot now. We were well past the tipping point of mild concern from governments and watchdogs anyway, but Haugen’s document leaks and Senate testimony have given greater legitimacy and impetus to those who say something has to be done.

Something has to be done, but what?

Telegrams (a one-to-one system with messages carried “under lock and key”) and radio stations (broadcasting, with a “public interest standard”) were cutting edge technologies once, requiring new approaches to regulation and legislation. Here, Nicholas Carr takes us on a trip back in time to draw interesting comparisons between how those approaches came about and what might be required to improve our experience of social media. It’s not going to fix itself.

How to fix social mediaThe New Atlantis
Disentangling personal speech and public speech is clarifying. It reveals the dual roles that social media companies play. They transmit personal messages on behalf of individuals, and they broadcast a variety of content to the general public. The two businesses have very different characteristics, as we’ve seen, and they demand different kinds of oversight. The two-pronged regulatory approach of the last century, far from being obsolete, remains vital. It can once again help bring order to a chaotic media environment. For a Congress struggling with the complexities of the social media crisis, it might even serve as the basis of a broad new law — a Digital Communications Act in the tradition of the original Communications Act — that both protects the privacy of personal correspondence and conversation and secures the public’s interest in broadcasting.

Metaverse schmetaverse

Another set of reactions to Meta’s easy-to-mock metaverse announcement, and reminders that its sci-fi inspirations were dystopian novels.

Mocking Meta: Facebook’s virtual reality name change prompts backlashThe Guardian
Satirical late night news programme the Daily Show tweaked Zuckerberg’s Meta presentation video by superimposing the tech billionaire onto footage of the January 6 Capitol riots and the 2017 Charlottesville white nationalist march. Both events were organised on Facebook. “Imagine you’ve put on your glasses or headset and you’re instantly in your home space and it has an incredibly inspiring view of whatever you find most beautiful,” Zuckerberg says as footage of Capital rioters and a group of tiki torch-bearing white supremacists plays in the background.

Meanings of the metaverse: Productizing realityRough Type
Facebook, it’s now widely accepted, has been a calamity for the world. The obvious solution, most people would agree, is to get rid of Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg has a different idea: Get rid of the world.

Experts warn Facebook’s metaverse poses ‘terrifying dangers’New York Post
Professor Reid is concerned about the vast amount of data that could be collected from the metaverse and who controls it. He also fears that avatars could be hacked and you could end up interacting with cybercriminals rather than people you know and trust. Reid explained: “The metaverse’s ultimate aim is not just virtual reality or augmented reality, it’s mixed reality (MR). It’s blending the digital and the real world together. Ultimately this blend may be so good, and so pervasive, that the virtual and the real become indistinguishable. And the market for that is gigantic. Whoever controls it, will basically have control over your entire reality.”

From ‘metaverse’ to ‘metacapitalism’.

Metaverse: how Facebook rebrand reflects a dangerous trend in growing power of tech monopoliesThe Conversation
The backlash has ranged from moral outrage over Facebook itself, to ridiculing Zuckerberg’s new vision for technology. What is overlooked is how this represents the desire to create metacapitalism – which uses technology to shape, exploit and profit from human interaction. It is a completely marketised virtual reality world fuelled by the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, unjust global working conditions and the constant invasion of users’ data privacy for private financial gain. […]

These moves play into a broader strategy to socially rebrand metacapitalism positively. The introduction of the metaverse is part of a new trend of what business ethics academic Carl Rhodes has referred to it as “woke capitalism”, noting in a recent article that “progressive gestures from big business aren’t just useless – they’re dangerous”. Whether it is the Gates Foundation initially opposing the spread of global vaccines in order to protect patent rights, or Elon Musk promising to create an “multi-planet civilisation” – while avoiding paying much-needed taxes here on Earth – corporations are now increasingly using philanthropy and utopian visions to hide their present day misdeeds.

Do you think he’s worried, though? Doubt it.

Meta and the Facebook Papers: Why Mark Zuckerberg has nothing to fearSalon.com
[L]et’s face it: Investors aren’t foolish if they continue to act as if there’s no chance in hell that the behemoth social network will face serious consequences for anti-social behavior. On the contrary, anyone taking a look at Capitol Hill right now would be surprised if that American leadership could reliably regulate a dodgeball game, much less an international company that is eroding our collective faith in humanity. […]

Zuckerberg has proved, time and again, that he cannot be trusted to do the right thing when it conflicts with his profit motive. Yet politicians at a federal level look like they’re powerless against a company they supposedly have a legal right to regulate. So, as much fun as it is to imagine Facebook will be toppled by this deluge of scandals, right now, the smart bet is that they’ll come out on the other end of this doing just fine. The rest of the world, however, won’t be so lucky.

Still, this is all some way off.

Metaverse: five things to know – and what it could mean for youThe Conversation
Different corporations will probably have their own visions or even local versions of the metaverse but, like the internet, they will all be connected, so you can move from one to the other. … I suspect Facebook will need to be in this for the long haul and that their vision of the metaverse is still many years off becoming a (virtual) reality.

Metaverse! Metaverse? Metaverse!!Benedict Evans
So, all of this is rather like standing in front of a whiteboard in the early 1990s and writing words like interactive TV, hypertext, broadband, AOL, multimedia, and maybe video and games, and then drawing a box around them all and labelling the box ‘information superhighway’. That vision of all consumers everywhere being connected to something was entirely correct, but not like that, and many of those components were blind alleys. ‘Metaverse’ today is again a label for a bunch of words on a whiteboard, some of which are more real than others, and which might well all end up combined, but not necessarily like that.

This article from PC Gamer has been my favourite take-down of all this metaverse hype, I think.

The metaverse is bulls**tPC Gamer
The metaverse is bulls**t because tech moguls missed the part where cyberpunk is dystopian. More than NFTs or cryptocurrency or any of the other brain-melting nonsense tied up in the tech landscape of 2021, this is the part that truly makes me want to stick my entire fist in my mouth and bite down. The push to create the metaverse, at least from companies like Epic and Facebook, seems entirely built on a teenage boy’s reading of Snow Crash: zeroing in on the awesome vision of future technology while totally missing the book’s satirical skewering of capitalism.

Microsoft’s making a start, though.

Microsoft takes on Facebook by launching metaverse on TeamsFinancial Times
The US software giant said that in the first half of next year, users of its Teams collaboration software would be able to appear as avatars — or animated cartoons — in video meetings. Remote workers will also be able to use their avatars to visit virtual work spaces, which would eventually include replicas of their employers’ offices. … “With 250m people around the world using Teams, the introduction of avatars will be the first real metaverse element to seem real,” said Jared Spataro, the head of Teams.

The metaverse will mostly be for workQuartz
For all of the chatter from Facebook/Meta, Nvidia, and other companies about building the metaverse, though, he thinks the metaverse will be mostly empty. That is to say, there won’t necessarily be a lot of things to do in this immersive version of the internet. While social experiences and games could come to define the space, Bailenson, who founded Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, is betting that education and work will remain the “killer apps” of virtual reality (VR) in the years to come.

How dull. I know where I’d rather be.

Zuckerberg’s metaverse: Lessons from Second LifeBBC News
Rei’s concern about a metaverse monopoly is one shared by many, including Anya Kanevsky, vice-president of product management at Linden Lab – the company running Second Life. Anya has watched with interest as several tech giants have started to talk about the new idea of a life online. Second Life has been going since 2003.

“I’m a little bit concerned about the dystopian nature that the conversation seems to be taking on right now,” she says. “The entry of a slightly oversized and outsized player into the space seems to signal to people that they are not the owners of it, that someone else is going to be setting the rules and kind of running the show and they will just be the consumers.”

As has been pointed out many times now, it was Neal Stephenson’s dystopian Snow Crash that first gave us this term, back in 1992.

Snow Crash and four other novels which are required reading for the Facebook generationVerdict
Arguably the most prescient element of the novel is the government’s failure to legislate to curb the technology which controls the world. At one point, the villain of the novel notes: “Y’know, watching government regulators trying to keep up with the world is my favourite sport… It’s like if they figured out a way to regulate horses at the same time the [Ford] Model T and the airplane were being introduced.”

What’s he working on these days?

Sci-fi icon Neal Stephenson finally takes on global warmingWIRED
[H] read journalist Oliver Morton’s 2015 book The Planet Remade, about solving the problem of climate change with scientific and technological trickery on a planetary scale. That idea made Stephenson think there might be a novel there. “Nothing else matters in comparison. It’s going to be the issue for 100 years,” Stephenson says. “I’m a guy who found a niche writing fiction about technical and scientific topics. It seemed odd to me that I should get to the end of my career and never take a whack at it.”

Another sci-fi author whose name crops up when discussing the metaverse is Ernest Cline. Here, he shares with us some thoughts on his debut novel, Ready Player One.

Ernest Cline’s Kindle notes & highlights for Ready Player OneGoodreads
“Besides, now that everyone could vote from home, via the OASIS, the only people who could get elected were movie stars, reality TV personalities, or radical televangelists.”

When I wrote this back in 2011, several movie stars had already been elected to public office here in the United States, and it was becoming obvious that fame and familiarity had the power to sway a lot of voters. In trying to envision my future dystopian reality of 2045, I imagined that at some point, only movie stars, radical televangelists and reality TV personalities would be able to get elected. I didn’t expect that it would take less than a decade for a reality TV personality to be elected to the highest office in the land.

When all’s said and done, other social networks are always available, as John Atkinson reminds us.

A century of social networkingWrong Hands

All very meh-ta

After last month’s speculation about Facebook’s attention deflecting rebrand, Mark is ploughing ahead with his metaverse plans and has plumped for Meta.

The Facebook company is now MetaMeta
The metaverse will feel like a hybrid of today’s online social experiences, sometimes expanded into three dimensions or projected into the physical world. It will let you share immersive experiences with other people even when you can’t be together — and do things together you couldn’t do in the physical world. It’s the next evolution in a long line of social technologies, and it’s ushering in a new chapter for our company.

(I like how he quickly dismisses that astronaut costume. Is that a dig at his billionaire buddies’ aspirations, I wonder?)

How has this gone down? As you’d expect.

Zuckerberg announces fantasy world where Facebook is not a horrible companyVice
[T]he juxtaposition between Zuckerberg’s pitch of living, working, playing, and generally existing in a utopian, fake, Facebook-developed virtual world loaded with fun and friendly people, concerts where you can always be in the front row, seamless mixed-reality basketball games where you feel like you are actually playing basketball, and kicksass, uhh, NFTs you can use to modify your metaverse avatar are a far cry from the disinformation, conspiracy theories, genocide-related, self-esteem destroying, spam, and general garbage content that exists on the platforms Facebook has already built. […]

About halfway through the delusional fever dream that was Facebook’s biggest product announcement of all time, Mark Zuckerberg said that “the last few years have been humbling for me and our company in a lot of ways,” as Facebook has nominally had to grapple with the harm it’s done to this world. It’s hard to find anything “humble” about a proposal to fundamentally remake human existence using technology that currently does not and may not ever exist and that few are currently clamoring for. But Facebook’s problems are too numerous to list, and so he is pitching products that don’t exist for a reality that does not exist in a desperate attempt to change the narrative as it exists in reality, where we all actually live.

Metaverse, Mars, meditation retreats: billionaires want to escape the world they ruinedThe Guardian
Facebook has played a major role in fomenting ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, drumming up lynch mobs in India and Sri Lanka, amplifying white nationalism in the US and providing the anti-vaccine movement with a massive megaphone during a global pandemic. Rather than address this ruination, Zuckerberg wants us to all turn our attention to a land of make-believe where he’s friends with rappers and you can watch Instagram stories on a pirate ship.

Escaping into the MetaverseThe New York Times
Personally, I like the real world, one that’s not riven by the hate that’s being stoked, in part, by tech companies like Facebook. But, hey, look over here at this airy, techtopia concept. There’s “Project Cambria,” the code name for a new high-end headset thingie that is still in development. And, oh, wow, it’s a Mark avatar in a skeleton costume being controlled by Mark himself!

This is not a new tactic. When it was in regulatory trouble in the 1990s, Microsoft hosted Forum 2000, where the company screened future-forward conceptual videos. It didn’t fix the company’s image problem or change the conversation. As one Microsoft executive who was there just texted me about Facebook, “I swear all they have to do is look at all the stupid things we did and then NOT DO THOSE THINGS but apparently they’ve decided to do them faster.”

The internet’s had fun with all this, as you’d imagine.

‘Very… meta’: Twitter cracks up over Facebook rebrandInquirer
Meat jokes were all the rage, with US hamburger chain Wendy’s tweeting shortly after the news: “Changing name to Meat.” […] For lots of people, meta will forever describe something that refers back to or is about itself, like a film about people making a film about filmmaking. “Everyone posting about Facebook on Twitter is very… meta,” wrote @JohnRush32.

Why The Matrix 4 is now marketing the movie as a true storyScreen Rant
A new poster for The Matrix Resurrections claims that the film is “based on real events,” spoofing Facebook’s recent company name change. […] It can be difficult to tell the difference between the simulation and the real world in The Matrix, and while the new poster is only a joke, the parallel to actual tech companies and their frightening level of control over the public consciousness does drive home the message of the franchise. MetaCortex isn’t Facebook, but the similarities are hard to ignore, especially in an age where polarization and radicalization through social media are so prevalent.

But some people have issues with the logo itself.

Origin and the pros and cons of Facebook’s new infinity Meta logoDesignboom
Once the new design surfaced, the digital community stepped in with some thoughts. Some criticized the new infinity-like symbol as being quite outdated and overused in company logos over the years. Bill Gardner, founder of the online database LogoLounge, explains how the continuous loop symbol was a trend that took off back in 2008, with too many companies adopted it in their logo designs ever since. Conducting a search on LogoLounge, Gardner found over 1,200 variations of the infinity symbol in brand logos. More surprisingly, a very similar name and design to that of Facebook’s was created back in 2015 by Maria Grønlund for a sleep tracker startup.

But what of the actual metaverse? Does this announcement get us any closer to it? Here’s John Cormack, the 3D and VR expert behind Oculus VR, a key component in any of Facebook’s Meta’s plans.

John Carmack issues some words of warning for Meta and its metaverse plansArs Technica
The idea of the metaverse, Carmack says, can be “a honeypot trap for ‘architecture astronauts.'” Those are the programmers and designers who “want to only look at things from the very highest levels,” he said, while skipping the “nuts and bolts details” of how these things actually work. These so-called architecture astronauts, Carmack said, “want to talk in high abstract terms about how we’ll have generic objects that can contain other objects that can have references to these and entitlements to that, and we can pass control from one to the other.” That kind of high-level hand-waving makes Carmack “just want to tear [his] hair out… because that’s just so not the things that are actually important when you’re building something.”

“But here we are,” Carmack continued. “Mark Zuckerberg has decided that now is the time to build the metaverse, so enormous wheels are turning and resources are flowing and the effort is definitely going to be made.”

So much of what he goes on to say goes straight over my head, but it’s still a fascinating summary of the current state of play from someone who obviously knows what he’s talking about.

The metaverse is already here. It’s MinecraftClive Thompson
The truth is, a thriving metaverse already exists. It’s incredibly high-functioning, with millions of people immersed in it for hours a day. In this metaverse, people have built uncountable custom worlds, and generated god knows how many profitable businesses and six-figure careers. Yet this terrain looks absolutely nothing the like one Zuckerberg showed off. It’s Minecraft, of course.

Hmm, perhaps not. As has been explained before, that’s just an example of a very successful virtual world, not a metaverse. Speaking of which:

Second Life trends on Twitter after Meta announcementDaniel Voyager
Second Life has now been around for over 18 years and still going strong with a active userbase. There has been positive net growth during 2021 and the lab have improved the platform over the years. Second Life is going to be around for many more years to come.

What’s in a name? #12

It seems Facebook are planning to take a leaf out of Google/Alphabet’s book, and separate out the thing it’s known best for from the insidious, multinational, overarching mega-conglomerate behind it.

Facebook is planning to rebrand the company with a new nameThe Verge
Facebook is planning to change its company name next week to reflect its focus on building the metaverse, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter.

The coming name change, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg plans to talk about at the company’s annual Connect conference on October 28th, but could unveil sooner, is meant to signal the tech giant’s ambition to be known for more than social media and all the ills that entail. The rebrand would likely position the blue Facebook app as one of many products under a parent company overseeing groups like Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus, and more.

New logo? Call itself ‘FCBK’? Bring back poking? How Facebook could rebrandThe Guardian
“Horizon” has been touted as Facebook’s new umbrella name, but in my estimation this is both too bland and too far removed from the company’s origins. Instead, let’s just ditch all the vowels and call it FCBK. Yes, it would be using the sort of textspeak that has been extinct for a decade and a half and, yes, at first glance it does look like there’s a new company called “Fuckbook”. But this is Facebook, remember. What were you expecting – competence?

The hidden microwork behind automation

Refugees help power machine learning advances at Microsoft, Facebook, and AmazonRest of World
A woman living in Kenya’s Dadaab, which is among the world’s largest refugee camps, wanders across the vast, dusty site to a central hut lined with computers. Like many others who have been brutally displaced and then warehoused at the margins of our global system, her days are spent toiling away for a new capitalist vanguard thousands of miles away in Silicon Valley. A day’s work might include labelling videos, transcribing audio, or showing algorithms how to identify various photos of cats.

Amid a drought of real employment, “clickwork” represents one of few formal options for Dadaab’s residents, though the work is volatile, arduous, and, when waged, paid by the piece. Cramped and airless workspaces, festooned with a jumble of cables and loose wires, are the antithesis to the near-celestial campuses where the new masters of the universe reside. […]

Microwork comes with no rights, security, or routine and pays a pittance — just enough to keep a person alive yet socially paralyzed. Stuck in camps, slums, or under colonial occupation, workers are compelled to work simply to subsist under conditions of bare life. This unequivocally racialized aspect to the programs follows the logic of the prison-industrial complex, whereby surplus — primarily black — populations [in the United States] are incarcerated and legally compelled as part of their sentence to labor for little to no payment. Similarly exploiting those confined to the economic shadows, microwork programs represent the creep of something like a refugee-industrial complex.

And it’s not just happening in Kenya.

Brazilian workers paid equivalent of 70 cents an hour to transcribe TikToksThe Intercept
For Felipe, the plan to make a little quick money became a hellish experience. With TikTok’s short-form video format, much of the audio that needed transcription was only a few seconds long. The payment, made in U.S. dollars, was supposed to be $14 for every hour of audio transcribed. Amassing the secondslong clips into an hour of transcribed audio took Felipe about 20 hours. That worked out to only about 70 cents per hour — or 3.85 Brazilian reals, about three-quarters of Brazil’s minimum wage.

The minimum wage, however, did not apply to the TikTok transcribers — like many other workers, the transcription job used the gig economy model, a favorite of tech firms. Gig economy workers are not protected by some labor laws; they are considered independent contractors rather than employees or even wage earners. In the case of the TikTok transcribers, who did not even have formal contracts, pay was based on how much transcribing they did rather than the hours they worked.

Keep it down, s’il vous plaît

After reading about how Venice is planning to use technology to control its tourists, here’s an article on Paris’s plans to tackle noise pollution.

Paris will try using sound sensors to fine vehicles causing noise pollutionQuartz
Similar technology has been used by police departments in US cities to determine the location of gunshots, but French cities have been pioneers in cracking down on noise as a traffic violation and public health hazard. Mayor Anne Hidalgo made reducing noise pollution part of her 2020 reelection campaign. Noise pollution is a top issue in France after air pollution. A study by Bruitparif found that in the greater Paris region, the health impacts of noise can cost a person an average 10 months of a healthy life, and July 2021 study estimated that the resulting social health costs from noise pollution—illness, hospitalization, lost years of work—could cost France €156 billion ($181 billion USD) per year.

I’m all for it.

NoiseWHO Europe
Excessive noise seriously harms human health and interferes with people’s daily activities at school, at work, at home and during leisure time. It can disturb sleep, cause cardiovascular and psychophysiological effects, reduce performance and provoke annoyance responses and changes in social behaviour.

Traffic noise alone is harmful to the health of almost every third person in the WHO European Region. One in five Europeans is regularly exposed to sound levels at night that could significantly damage health.

Another reason to go electric? Not necessarily.

A different kind of dark web

It’s a topic I’ve mentioned before, but here’s another round-up of the ways web design can be quite manipulative.

The rise of dark web design: how sites manipulate you into clickingThe Conversation
Dark design has proven to be an incredibly effective way of encouraging web users to part with their time, money and privacy. This in turn has established “dark patterns”, or sets of practices designers know they can use to manipulate web users. They’re difficult to spot, but they’re increasingly prevalent in the websites and apps we use every day, creating products that are manipulative by design, much like the persistent, ever-present pop-ups we’re forced to close when we visit a new website.

How dark patterns trick you onlineNerdwriter1: YouTube
Some of the responsibility’s on us, but some is on design too. And it’s not the fault of the designers; they’re just doing what they’re tasked to do, knowing full well that if they don’t, others will. As Brignull says, our best defence against the dark patterns is to be aware of them and shame the companies who utilise them.

For more info on the different types, here’s a direct, non-sneaky, no-nonsense link to Harry Brignull’s website.

The future’s so bright?

What could possibly go wrong?

Ray-Ban StoriesLuxottica
Facebook, Inc. and Ray-Ban releases the next generation of smart glasses, Ray-Ban Stories. The highly anticipated collaboration brings forward a new way to seamlessly capture, share and listen through your most authentic moments. […]

We’re introducing an entirely new way for people to stay connected to the world around them and truly be present in life’s most important moments, and to look good while doing it,” said Andrew Bosworth, Vice President, Facebook Reality Labs.

I wish Ray-Ban’s Stories smart glasses were made by anyone but FacebookYahoo Finance
Whether or not you’re willing to make that investment largely depends on how you feel about Facebook and what you are hoping to get out of a pair of “smart glasses.” At best, they feel like a better, more polished version of Snapchat’s Spectacles. It’s still a novelty, but with decent audio, smart glasses are starting to feel a lot more useful. At worst, the glasses are yet another reminder of Facebook’s dominance.

Facebook announces launch of Ray-Ban Stories smart glassesThe Guardian
The company’s hardest sell might not be privacy, but the glasses themselves. Snapchat’s Spectacles are now in their third generation, with improvements each time, yet they’ve failed to catch the imagination of the target market. The company took a $40m write-down on the value of unsold inventory in 2017.

Facebook and Ray-Ban are rolling out smart glasses that actually look cool. Will anyone buy them?CNN
I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was getting away with something while wearing Ray-Ban Stories in public. As far as I could tell, nobody noticed anything unusual about the glasses while chasing my kids around a busy playground, even when I was taking numerous short videos. (It was impossible for me to tell, but perhaps the bright sunlight made the glasses’ white LED less noticeable.) I walked into stores with them on, took pictures of myself in mirrors, and nobody even blinked. It would have been easy to use these glasses to invade other people’s privacy. Was this accidentally furtive photo- and video-taking turning me into a Facehole?

Facebook’s new camera glasses are dangerously easy to useWIRED
During a dinner with friends last weekend, Peter wore the Ray-Ban Stories the whole time—and it wasn’t until he pointed out the tiny sensors embedded at the temples that friends noticed. Once they did, though, Facebook’s biggest issue didn’t take long to surface: “So, you’ve been recording the whole time?” one friend asked, only half joking. Similarly, Lauren recorded (then deleted) a conversation with an editor while fumbling with the glasses. The editor never noticed.

Smart glasses made Google look dumb. Now Facebook is giving them a try.The New York Times
Many of these privacy concerns are beside the point for technologists who see wearables as inexorable for society. For Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, the ultimate goal is to eventually release a pair of smart glasses that fully augment reality, which puts a kind of virtual overlay onto the world in front of people.

That idea is yet another step on the road to the metaverse, Mr. Zuckerberg’s term for how parts of the virtual and actual world will eventually meld together and share different parts of each other.

Is it getting a little tiring, now, to keep responding to these type of stories with ‘just because we can, doesn’t mean we should’? I did, however, like the comment about determining someone’s age by their taking-a-photo gestures, at the end of this piece from the BBC’s Chris Fox.

Looking back at the cybercafés of the future

Everything innovative and cutting-edge is destined to become quaint and old-fashioned — from cassettes, DVDs and mobile phones, to laptops and the web itself, even. Looking back at the internet of the 90s, it’s easy to forget how revolutionary and necessary cybercafés once were.

Introducing the crazy new world of cybercafesCNET: YouTube
“What happens when plugged-in people congregate for a little indoor surfing? You get cybercafés. Desmond Crisis, the newest member of the CNET central team, takes us on a tour of these hi-tech hangouts.”

The hippest internet cafe of 1995Vox: YouTube
The cyber-struggle is real. Vox’s Phil Edwards spoke to one of the founders of @ Cafe, an internet cafe that launched just as the internet was coming into the public eye.

Cybercafés were the brainchild of Ivan Pope, as he’s keen to tell us, though Cyberia’s Eva Pascoe was perhaps more influential.

The first Internet cafe operates (for two days)History of Information
Commissioned to develop an Internet event for “Towards the Aesthetics of the Future,” an arts weekend at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London, Ivan Pope wrote a proposal outlining the concept of a café with Internet access from the tables. Pope’s Cybercafe, the first Internet cafe, operated only during the weekend event, March 12-13, 1994. Pope and internet artist Heath Bunting planned to open London’s first cybercafe later in 1994, but were preempted by Cyberia, an internet cafe founded in London in September 1994.

Cafe with a mission to explain: Cyberia offers chance to check your e-mail and network over coffee and croissantThe Independent
Welcome to Cyberia, Britain’s first cybercafe, where you can turn on, tune in and ‘surf’ the information superhighway. The cafe concept, devised to make a computer environment less formidable, has been borrowed from California where ‘surfing’ – or hopping between global databanks – is commonplace. Here in Whitfield Street, central London, over a cappuccino and an almond croissant, cognoscenti and novices alike can communicate with kindred spirits around the world. Even people with scant technical knowledge will be able to access international databanks and pick up ‘e-mail’.

All About Eva: Wired UK Issue 2.04 April 1996Yoz
Cyberia is a barely-decorated street-level space where 50-year-old gardening club members, 40-year-old advertising execs, 30-year-old nurses, 20-year-old hairdressers and still-living-with-their-mums teenagers sit shoulder to shoulder basking in the joys of the Internet. And that means it’s the cool hang-out for technologically-curious people in London.

They spread everywhere — from London to San Francisco, Paris, even Bolton.

Remembering the Horseshoe, quite possibly the nation’s first Internet cafeHoodline
Before the city’s coffee shops were filled with laptops, Internet cafes were among the few places to access the World Wide Web outside of the home. The Lower Haight once boasted one such spot: the Horseshoe Cafe at 566 Haight St. Said to be the first Internet cafe in the nation, the cafe opened in the 1990s, and endured until it caught fire and closed in 2005.

Cybercafes@ParisSecrets of Paris
My favorite was the High Tech Café up on top of the Galeries Lafayette next to Montparnasse. It has passed on to its next life as a restaurant, but just to give you an idea of how the French interpret an internet café: the computers were lined up on one side, with a dining room and bar on the other side, a big dancefloor in between with a disco ball. I could order food and drinks while sitting at the keyboard, and on Friday nights I could barely type out my e-mails because the karaoke was too loud.

8 of Edinburgh’s best-known internet cafes of the 2000sEdinburgh News
They were the petrol stations for drivers on the “information superhighway”, filling us up with all our World Wide Web needs in an age when fewer than a quarter of us had internet access at home. While they can still be found in the Capital, the early 2000s witnessed a surge in the number of internet cafes in the city with the number of people reliant on them at its peak. From Scotland’s first, Hanover Street’s Cyberia, to the gigantic Easy Everything on Rose Street, we take a look at 8 of Edinburgh’s most fondly-recalled cyber cafes.

Cyber cafe set to keep doors openWarrington Guardian
Youngsters in Winsford can continue to surf the net and develop their computer skills after the Cybercafe scheme proved to be a huge success. The cafe, at Willow Wood Community Centre, attracted 200 youngsters in its first week who were all keen to surf the internet, play computer games and even take part in a pool tournament. The scheme was originally set up to run for four weeks, but as it was such a hit, it will run for a further six.

Cyber cafe is a winnerThe Bolton News
Two friends who run a Horwich Internet cafe believe they have logged on to a franchise winner. Directors Gary Marsden and Hassan Isaji spent several months planning the details before the December opening of Cyberjungle on the Middlebrook leisure development at Lostock. Customers can enjoy a cappuccino coffee while using one of the 16 available computer terminals to send e-mails or surf the worldwide web.

People loved them …

I landed on IRC in a hot summer night 1996Fred Thoughts
I landed on IRC in a hot summer night 1996. The Internet room at my local cybercafe was small and smelly. The air was full of a persistent mix of dust, sweat, coffee, cold cigarette and cheap washing powder. It was filled with 4 old PCs, recycled from the gaming room. Most of the day, it was empty but passed 7PM, it was constantly full of people. For 4.5 € an hour, the introvert I was started a wonderful social life. I was surfing the awakening World Wide Web and chat with people from the other side of the world, staying hours after the shop closed its curtains. Around 4 AM, the owner kicked us out, and I walked back home across the dormant city before another boring day, another night online.

… and they were keen to let you know what was going on.

Cyberia Edinburgh live webcam!Cybersurf
If you can see the inside of the café: those people sitting at the computers are our valued customers. They are mostly writing e-mails, word processing or perhaps chatting on IRC. If you would like to chat with any of them, I’m afraid there is currently no reliable way to reach them, aside from visiting every IRC channel and running a ‘finger’ on every single person! For lively chat on all things Scottish, try #scotland on your local server. If the channel doesn’t exist, start one up! Who knows, perhaps someone you can see will join it!

Cyberpub CAMS
Air Academy Spy Cam; Apple Live; Brew Cam, Sacramento; Café Boatquay; Cafe Brno, Repubblica Ceca Internet Bar; Cafe’ Action Cam, Switzerland…

Everyone wanted to get involved.

Tesco joins Internet café societyDesign Week
A Tesco spokesman confirms that “we are going to do it” though there are no definite plans about the number of outlets or where they will be. He believes the cafés will build on the success of the existing Tesco website, which was established in July 1998 and created by Designer City. “TescoNet is going very well, but there is still a large proportion of people who are curious about the Internet. They are put off by big computer brands and have a fear of the technology,” he explains.

Apple nearly got in on it, too.

Apple once considered building futuristic cybercafes instead of Apple StoresThe Next Web
Developed in collaboration with Mega Bytes, the Apple Cafe was imagined as an innovative internet cafe with a “high tech” interior design that reflected the forward-looking mindset the Big A aspired to stand for. Radically diverging from the facade of traditional retail stores, the modernist locale was slated to bring together food service, paraphernalia retail, user support and computer sales into one single common space.

Apple almost built a futuristic cybercafe in 1997 with computers at every tableMacRumors
Jobs was reportedly involved in the design process, choosing Christopher’s team because of their work creating unique retail spaces. Jobs wanted a way for Apple to connect to customers, which led to the idea of a cafe equipped with Apple products. A computer was at every table, where people could do things like order food, watch movies, surf the web, design web pages, and play video games.

That EasyJet guy had big plans …

U.K. gets largest cyber cafeCNN Money
Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the founder and chairman of U.K.-based no-frills carrier easyJet, opened the first in a chain of giant Internet cafes, called easyEverything Internet shops, opposite one of London’s largest railway stations. The huge 10,000 square foot store, opposite Victoria Station in central London, has 400 screens and will offer access to the Internet from prices as low as 1 pound ($1.60) per hour. The standard telephone costs alone for home users in the U.K. is around 1.05 pounds. London’s first Internet cafe, Cyberia, charges 3 pounds for a half hour session.

… which led to even bigger plans.

U.K. cyber cafe heads to New YorkCNN.com
EasyEverything founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou is planning to extend his chain of big orange cyber cafes to the Big Apple, a spokesman for the company said Monday. The easyEverything chain offers low-cost Internet access to travellers and others without their own computers through its five London cyber cafes, easily recognizable by their giant orange facades. Located in tourist areas such as Oxford Street and Victoria Station, the cafes have a total of 2,300 computer terminals. The company has recently added outlets in Rotterdam, Edinburgh, Amsterdam and Barcelona.

Some had their doubts …

Internet cafe chain to try a Times Sq. connectionThe New York Times
Among the reasons EasyEvery thing, which is open 24 hours a day, may have succeeded in London are that most people here do not own personal computers and that the telephone rates for dial-up modem access to the Internet are significantly higher than in the United States. Because local telephone calls are billed by the minute here — not a flat rate like American telephone companies offer — Internet users must pay the telephone company and the access providers, like America Online, every time they log on.

”By itself, it is deadly dull for a U.S. audience,” said Bruce Kasrel, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, which analyzes e-commerce. ”People already have Internet access at the office and at home.” He cited empty Internet access terminals at airports as an example of a similar scheme that had not worked.

… which turned out to be well-founded.

‘The world’s first,’ Café Cyberia in London, takes a bow : A decade of Internet cafésThe New York Times
But like many entrepreneurs from the early dot-com years, Pascoe left the business in 1998 and went on to other projects. The chain of Cyberia cafés were sold to South Korean investors about three years ago, who rebranded them under the name Be the Reds, or BTR — borrowing a cheer shouted by supporters of the South Korean soccer team. […]

Haji-Ioannou has said that he overinvested in the business, which turned into a big money-loser for his EasyGroup.

Stelios bails out EasyEverythingBBC News
The EasyEverything internet cafe chain has run out of money and is to get a £15m funding injection from its founder, budget airline entrepreneur Stelios Haji-Ioannou. But Mr Haji-Ioannou confirmed he is cutting the value of shares held by staff from one pound to one penny as part of the refinancing.

I have kidnapped your auntie: The Ballad of the Bad Café, and the end of the road for the internet café hoboBBC World Service
I have now completed a world journey of internet cafes. Scroll to the bottom of the blog and you’ll see I started all bright and bushy-tailed, finding stories of education, enterprise and cheer. There are huge advantages to the public nature of internet cafes. And – as I discovered in programme three – some disadvantages too. As I type this in my comfortable office, the only people who can “shoulder surf” or look over my shoulder at what I’m writing, are colleagues. For me, privacy is easy. On the other hand, Sam Roberts shoulder-surfed a man in Burkina Faso and saw he was threatening to kidnap someone’s auntie.

Cybercafés haven’t entirely gone away …

The weird, sketchy history of internet cafesGizmodo
The idea was eventually exported to New York’s Times Square in 2000, but by then, the idea of going someplace to simply get online was already getting outdated and quaint. The internet was something you could access from home; it was evolving. And internet cafes got a whole lot weirder. […]

Flannel-wearing 90s hipsters got Internet cafes off the ground, but internet pirates jonesing for free movies and music took the establishment to a whole new level. At the turn of the millennium—around the same time Napster became popular—sharing music online did, too. And people in pursuit of illicit MP3s started filling internet cafes again. […]

PC bangs [internet cafes built for just for gaming] are still in full force today, with over 22,000 reported in 2007. Patrons spend a buck an hour for the all-you-can-play, high-speed bandwidth, powerful hardware, and snacks for purchase. Gaming addiction is also a problem, with work and school falling by the wayside as gamers spend all their time and money at PC bangs. In 2011, Korea implemented a controversial curfew that mandated customers under 16 were not allowed in internet cafes from midnight to 6 a.m.

… but they are very different places now.

The Japanese workers who live in internet cafesVice
For 10 months, Fumiya, a 26-year-old Japanese security guard, has been living in a 24-hour internet cafe. In a tiny cubicle where he can barely stand, he sits hunched over a glowing screen, chain smoking and chugging soda between his work shifts. When he is able to sleep, he puts a blanket over his face to block out the fluorescent lights.

Japan’s disposable workers: Net cafe refugeesMediaStorm: Vimeo
Internet cafes have existed in Japan for well over a decade, but in the mid 2000’s, customers found a new use for these spaces: living quarters. As a result, cafes are now equipped with showers and laundry service, all reasonably priced for overnight users. “Internet cafe refugees,” as they are called by the media, are mostly temporary employees. Their salary is too low to rent their own apartments. The number of low-paid temp workers, with little benefits and no job security, has been steadily climbing. Today, more than one in three are temporary workers.

For HK$55 a night, Hong Kong’s ‘invisible homeless’ or working poor turn to cybercafes, amid unaffordable rents and with nowhere to goSouth China Morning Post
Air conditioning and desktops for internet are better options than squalid, bug-infested subdivided flats or 24-hour fast-food chains.

Life hasn’t returned to normal for China’s internet cafesSouth China Morning Post
Business are urged to reopen across the country as coronavirus infections drop, but gamers wonder when they can visit their favorite haunts again.

So yes, cybercafés are still around …

All about internet cafesLifewire
Do your research at home before traveling and bring along a list of well-rated cyber cafes. Travel guides often provide locations of internet cafes for travelers. Do a Google search for cyber cafes in the areas you plan to visit. A Google Maps search of your intended destination will pinpoint locations. Check in advance to find out if an internet cafe is still open. They often have unusual hours and close down with little or no notification.

… though they are now as far from their chic hi-tech bistro beginnings as it’s possible to be. Many of the existing ones, little more than just mobile phone shops, are all using the same Google template. Not all, though.

Internet Cafe Kentish Town
Internet Cafe Kentish Town. From 09.45 til 22.30. Printing and Photocopying. Hampstead. Highgate.

Global Gaming Arena
Founded in 1998, Netadventure Cybercafe and Global Gaming Arena was the UKs first dedicated on-line gaming centre. We concentrate on being a community for gamers to meet as well as to play.

Still, if you’re interested in setting one up, there are companies out there ready to offer all you need, from IT admin software to more bespoke website templates.

Internet Cafe softwareAntamedia
Antamedia Internet Cafe software controls, secures, and enhances the running of your Internet cafe, gaming center, eSports center, library, school or hotel public computers. The software restricts access to the system, desktop, drives, folders and programs based on your settings. It helps you control and bill your customers for the Internet browsing, playing games, using Office applications, even covering retail products.

Talnet Internet Cafe HTML5 website templateTemplate Monster
The Talnet internet cafe HTML5 website template provides a modern & bright design combined with a spacious layout. It is a perfect choice for any internet cafe or coworking space.

Or you could just run a simulation instead.

Internet Cafe SimulatorSteam
You must pay the rent of your apartment and shop. You must satisfy your customers. You should install more elegant and powerful gaming computers. You can also do illegal work if you want. But be careful, the price can be very heavy.

Internet Cafe Simulator 2Steam
You can attract more customers on rainy days. Increase the skills you want to develop from the tech tree. Will you become a business prodigy or a brawler skilled at protecting his cafe? You have to earn money to pay off your brother’s debt!

Internet Cafe Simulator (PC) reviewHardcore Gamers Unified
Internet Cafe Simulator puts you in charge of a brand-new internet café. As the new boss, every success and failure is in your hands. Purchase new computers and make sure they’re updated with the latest and greatest applications and games. Choose how much you want to charge customers so you can maximize profit by chasing them away, after all, you need to pay the rent at the end of every month!

I think I’ll continue trying to set up my cybercafé in Second Life. Pop in, if you’re passing. Free internet access!

The web’s not what it used to be

So says this article from The New York Times — way back in 2001.

Exploration of World Wide Web tilts from eclectic to mudaneThe New York Times
The new utilitarian view of the Web marks a disappointment for cultural critics who see the medium as fundamentally more democratic than traditional radio, television and newspapers, because the barriers to entry are so low. The Web was supposed to subvert corporate domination of culture by giving a global soapbox — or printing press or television station — to anyone with a computer and a modem. While plenty of people do publish their personal musings and pictures of their babies, new data shows that for many people, the Web has become an electronic routine.

It certainly looks different these days, as this tongue-in-cheek recreation shows.

How I experience the web today

But there are still glimpses of the old web out there, if you know what URL to type — or mistype.

gail.com
Q: Why isn’t there any content here? Can’t you at least throw up a picture of your cat for the Internet to check out?
A: Sorry, I have a cat, but she’s pretty unexciting by Internet standards. As for why there is very little content here, we wanted to keep the server’s attack surface as small as possible to keep it safe.

Q: Interested in selling gail.com?
A: Sorry, no.

Q: How did you manage to get gail.com?
A: My husband registered it as a birthday gift back in 1996.

Q: How many times a day is this page visited?
A: In 2020 this page received a total of 5,950,012 hits, which is an average of 16,257 per day. Looking at just unique hits, we received a total of 1,295,284, for an average of 3,539 unique hits per day. Occasionally, we get Twitter-bombed and may get several tens of thousands of visitors a day. As an example, on July 21st 2020 we received 109,316 hits.

Q: Why is your website so popular? Are you one of those famous people that no one knows why they’re famous?
A: No, I’m not famous. It seems likely that most visitors simply mistype gmail.com and end up visiting gail.com by mistake.

For curiousity’s sake, I right-clicked to ‘view page source’ of this anachronistic little website and was rewarded with this little comment, hence the header image of this post.

Quirky, hand-written html is something I definitely miss from the old web.

The internet’s next leap forward?

Remember when virtual reality was supposed to be the next all-encompassing, technological paradigm? Or the Internet of Things? Well, hold on to your VR googles because the metaverse is coming! Mark says so.

Facebook wants us to live in the metaverseThe New Yorker
In a Facebook earnings call last week, Mark Zuckerberg outlined the future of his company. The vision he put forth wasn’t based on advertising, which provides the bulk of Facebook’s current profits, or on an increase in the over-all size of the social network, which already has nearly three billion monthly active users. Instead, Zuckerberg said that his goal is for Facebook to help build the “metaverse,” a Silicon Valley buzzword that has become an obsession for anyone trying to predict, and thus profit from, the next decade of technology.

Mark Zuckerberg wants to turn Facebook into a ‘metaverse company’ – what does that mean?The Conversation
In his quest to turn Facebook into a metaverse company, Zuckerberg is seeking to build a system where people move between virtual reality (VR), AR and even 2D devices, using realistic avatars of themselves where appropriate. Here they will work, socialise, share things and have other experiences, while still probably using the internet for some tasks such as searches which are similar to how we use it now. Owning not only the Facebook platform but also WhatsApp, Instagram and VR headset maker Oculus gives Zuckerberg a big head start in making this a reality.

Here’s how the man himself describes it, in an interview with The Verge.

Mark in the metaverse: Facebook’s CEO on why the social network is becoming ‘a metaverse company’The Verge
The metaverse is a vision that spans many companies — the whole industry. You can think about it as the successor to the mobile internet. And it’s certainly not something that any one company is going to build, but I think a big part of our next chapter is going to hopefully be contributing to building that, in partnership with a lot of other companies and creators and developers. But you can think about the metaverse as an embodied internet, where instead of just viewing content — you are in it. And you feel present with other people as if you were in other places, having different experiences that you couldn’t necessarily do on a 2D app or webpage, like dancing, for example, or different types of fitness.

For context, it would be helpful to read Neal Stephenson’s 1992 Snow Crash or Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One from 2011, recently made into a movie of the same name. Exciting, dynamic sci-fi thrillers, but not futures that I’d like as my present.

The metaverse has always been a dystopian ideaVICE
If it is coming, and if it is a big deal, then surprisingly few have paused to carefully consider the actual source of the metaverse, an undertaking which seems like a good idea, especially because that source is a deeply dystopian novel about a collapsed America that is overrun by violence and poverty. The metaverse was born in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 Snow Crash, where it serves as entertainment and an economic underbelly to a poor, desperate nation that is literally governed by corporate franchises. […]

Both books’ metaverses get at a common truism: there is something inherently dystopian in a future where humans abandon the real world in favor of an escapist and consumerist-oriented fully immersive digital one. To want to spend any serious amount of time in a metaverse, it must be made more appealing than reality, a feat which can be accomplished in one of two ways—either the world outside is already shitty enough to drive you into a glitch-prone, murder-filled alternative, or the fantasy of becoming someone else is compelling enough to consume you totally.

Is this all hype at the moment? Is there any real substance to these aspirations?

But as usual with such amorphous concepts and platform aspirations, there’s very little there. None of these luminaries, from Zuck to Nadella to Boz, seem capable of painting a coherent vision for what their particular metaverse will look or feel like, beyond gesturing at “presence” and a collection of apps, keywords, and old science fiction tropes. It is an odd vision built from a compendium of juvenile fantasies, perceived market opportunities, and overt dystopias.

Well, the author of that article might think so, but that’s not a view shared by venture capitalist Matthew Ball. He first wrote about the beginnings of the metaverse in 2018 …

Fortnite is the future, but probably not for the reasons you thinkMatthewBall.vc
The impending possibility (and broader inevitability) of the Metaverse is separate from whether Epic can, should or will pursue it. But it’s clear that Sweeney wants to build an open Metaverse before someone else builds a closed one. Many are trying.

… updated that in January 2020 …

The Metaverse: What it is, where to find it, who will build it, and FortniteMatthewBall.vc
This is why considering Fortnite as video game or interactive experience is to think too small and too immediately. Fortnite began as a game, but it quickly evolved into a social square. Its players aren’t logging in to “play”, per se, but to be with their virtual and real-world friends. Teenagers in the 1970s to 2010s would come home and spend three hours talking on the phone. Now they talk to their friends on Fortnite, but not about Fortnite. Instead, they talk about school, movies, sports, news, boys, girls and more. After all, Fortnite doesn’t have a story or IP – the plot is what happens on it and who is there.

… and then again in June 2021, with this extensive, nine-part essay, ‘The Metaverse Primer’.

A framework for the metaverseMatthewBall.vc
Since [the 2020 update], a lot has happened. COVID-19 forced hundreds of millions into Zoomschool and remote work. Roblox became one of the most popular entertainment experiences in history. Google Trends’ index on the phrase “The Metaverse” set a new “100” in March 2021. Against this baseline, use of the term never exceeded seven from January 2005 through to December 2020. With that in mind, I thought it was time to do an update – one that reflects how my thinking has changed over the past 18 months and addresses the questions I’ve received during this time, such as “Is the Metaverse here?”, “When will it arrive?”, and “What does it need to grow?”.

In this collection of essays, he dives into eight core categories; hardware, networking, computing power, virtual platforms, standards, payments, content and services, and user behaviour.

Each of these buckets is critical to the development of the Metaverse. In many cases, we have a good sense of how each one needs to develop, or at least where there’s a critical threshold (say, VR resolution and frame rates, or network latency). But recent history warns us not to be dogmatic about any specific path to, or idealized vision of, a fully functioning Metaverse. The internet was once envisioned as the ‘Information Superhighway’ and ‘World Wide Web’. Neither of these descriptions were particularly helpful in planning for 2010 or 2020, least of all in understanding how the world and almost every industry would be transformed by the internet.

Very extensive, and I can’t say I follow even half of it, but it all sounds very exciting. It’s nice to see Second Life getting a mention as a “proto-metaverse”, but I wish it was more involved.

Second Life 2021 review, documentary from inside the social metaverse – YouTube
Second Life is an open world 3D social virtual world, the precursor of the virtual reality or VR platforms we see today. But is it really on its way out of the Metaverse game as some believe? Or does it hold the keys to realizing the Metaverse as it is envisioned by many futurists and sci-fi authors? This short film seeks to answer those questions.

Hopefully this next social internet will result in a more positive future than the one envisaged in Keiichi Matsuda’s video, Hyper-reality, that I shared some time back.

Anyway, to round all this off, here are a couple of links from Dezeen on what real estate in this new digital universe might look like.

Artist Krista Kim sells “first NFT digital house in the world” for over $500,000Dezeen
Kim designed the home in 2020 to be a space that embodied her philosophy of meditative design and worked with an architect to render the house using Unreal Engine, software that is commonly used to create video games. She describes the house, which overlooks a moody mountain range and features an open-plan design and floor to ceiling glass walls, as a “light sculpture”.

Andrés Reisinger sells collection of “impossible” virtual furniture for $450,000 at auctionDezeen
Each of the virtual items can be placed in any shared 3D virtual space or “metaverse”, including open worlds such as Decentraland and Somnium Space and Minecraft. Alternatively, the 3D models can be used in virtual- and augmented-reality applications as well as development platforms such as Unity and Unreal Engine to create games, animations and CGI movies.

Timescales, though. The web’s already 30 years old, how long do we have to wait for all this? And how will we stop it going sour again?