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?

Giving Second Life a third chance

Do you remember Second Life? Not only is it still around, but it’s having something of a comeback, thanks to you-know-what.

Huck’s absolute beginner’s guide to Second Life for the coronavirus curiousWhat the Huck?
Registrations are up. People are rediscovering Second Life. Which makes sense, because one of the first things you realise after a couple of days of self-isolation/working from home is just how much we all need contact with other human beings. It’s so important that we stay at home right now, but that doesn’t mean to say we have to stop socialising, and SL offers that possibility.

A message from our CEO: Coronavirus and Second Life operationsSecond Life Community
We are seeing an increase in new registrations and returning residents during this outbreak. Please be kind and welcoming to those who may just need a friendly conversation to escape from this crazy world for a moment or more. If you have a friend or colleague who is looking for a safe place to socialize online during these tough times, we encourage you to help them discover how Second Life can enable them to feel less isolated by connecting them to your favorite communities or experiences.

I had an account with Second Life for a while back in the late-naughties, and remember very little. The only link I have on here about it is this one from 2010, about a university’s virtual version of itself falling foul of Second Life’s codes of conduct. The Chronicle’s news story I was linking to isn’t there anymore, but I found this one from the same time.

California College loses Second Life for a second timeUS News
It was a pretty big deal, then, when Woodbury University, a small school in Burbank, Calif., got booted off Second Life for the second time in four years on Tuesday, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports. Woodbury was kicked out the first time in 2007. Linden Labs, which owns and oversees Second Life, didn’t give a specific reason for the ban, but the Chronicle story suggests that it had to do with accusations of vandalism and Woodbury’s ongoing dispute with another group on Second Life.

Here’s another write-up of that from 2010, going in to more detail.

Woodbury University banned from Second Life (again)Krypton Radio
The real life Woodbury University has been barred from having any official representation in Second Life since July of 2007, when the original Woodbury University region was first trashed by IntLibber Brautigan employee Maldavius Figtree and then completely destroyed less than a week later by Linden Lab itself. Linden Lab deleted the region and most of its users due to its use as a headquarters for planning and executing grid raids by the now inactive griefing group known as the Patriotic Nigras.

The ten year anniversary of all that was noted last year on the Second Life forums, so it must have been quite significant at the time.

I was surprised that this story was the only one on Second Life that I had shared here on this blog. As I explain on my About page, all these links are first gathered up on my Pinboard site, so I went back there to see if I had anything else from around that time. They were all from 2016, the first time I peeked back inside this curiously old-fashioned futuristic land.

Why is ‘Second Life’ still a thing?Vice
“As the VR market continues to grow, new experiences are introduced, and new hardware is released, we’re seeing many experiences and behaviors that reflect what Second Life users have been doing for years,” Altberg said. Indeed, the most surprising thing about Second Life is not that it’s still a thing, but that 13 years after its inception, it is still way ahead of its time.

The digital ruins of a forgotten futureThe Atlantic
Second Life was supposed to be the future of the internet, but then Facebook came along. Yet many people still spend hours each day inhabiting this virtual realm. Their stories—and the world they’ve built—illuminate the promise and limitations of online life.

Whatever happened to Second Life?Alphr
Three years on, and Second Life seems no closer to finding a respectable reason for being than it did in 2006. It might try and shuffle sex into a corner, and pretend that it’s a melting pot of creativity, business and academia, but it ultimately serves no purpose. It’s like the nouvelle cuisine of the 1980s: pretty, fascinating but ultimately unfulfilling. “What’s the point of Second Life?” I asked one of the “greeters” on the Second Life Help Island, desperate to find something that could make this vast, billion-dollar empire seem worthwhile.

Well I quite like the place, third time round, though I’m still none the wiser about it all. Thankfully, help is still around.

Unreal art around town

At a time when indoor art galleries and museums are closed because of you know what, it’s good to see some alternative initiatives. Here, an augmented reality app allowed you to explore 36 digital sculptures from artists around the world, arranged as a riverside walking tour.

How an augmented reality app transformed London into an immersive art galleryAeon Videos
If you ever hopped on the Pokémon GO craze, you’ll have an inkling of how digital technology is increasingly capable of adding rich new slices to everyday life. The public exhibition ‘Unreal City’, which ran from 8 December 2020 to 5 January 2021 on the River Thames in London – and is, until 9 February 2021, available for at-home viewing – similarly superimposed digital layers on to reality, but with an aim to transform the city into an immersive augmented reality (AR) art gallery.

Have a go at curating your own exhibition at home.

Unreal City at HomeAcute Art
Acute Art and Dazed Media are excited to announce that Unreal City, London’s biggest public festival of AR art will now be available to view and interact with from inside your home for one-month only. Responding to new lockdown measures and the popularity of the exhibition in London and across the United Kingdom, Acute Art and Dazed Media will make these site-specific artworks available for audiences all around the world to discover from the safety of their homes via the free Acute Art app.

Introducing Rex Specs

First cows, now dogs?

US Army trials augmented reality goggles for dogsBBC News
In current combat deployments, soldiers usually direct their animals with hand signals or laser pointers – both of which require the handler to be close by. But that need not be the case if the prototype AR goggles are widely adopted, the army said.

The US Army is testing augmented reality goggles for dogsThe Verge
The AR goggles themselves are adapted from an established piece of kit for military canines: protective goggles known as Rex Specs. Each pair of goggles has to be customized for its wearer, with 3D scans used to ascertain where exactly to place the HUD for optimal viewing angles. The familiarity of the Rex Specs, though, makes the goggles easy to adapt to, says Peper.

Virtual promenades

What would Mussorgsky have made of these virtual promenades around pictures at exhibitions, I wonder.

Google virtual tour The National Gallery
In 2016, Google created this 360° tour of Rooms 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15 and Central Hall. Immerse yourself in Renaissance masterpieces from Northern Italy, the Netherlands and Germany, including works by Titian, Veronese, and Holbein.

How to explore the British Museum from homeThe British Museum Blog
Did you know that the Museum is the world’s largest indoor space on Google Street View? You can go on a virtual visit to more than 60 galleries – perfect for creating your own bespoke tour around your favourites. See highlights like the Rosetta Stone in the Egyptian Sculpture Gallery or discover gems like the beautiful textiles in the Sainsbury African Galleries.

It’s not the same, though, is it?

The rise of the virtual gallery tour: what works and what doesn’t (yet)Frame
Received wisdom, and newspaper columnists, would have you believe that we’re currently experiencing a revolution in the way we consume art and artefacts online. The British Museum, frequently the institution at the top of the global visitor-number leaderboard, has seen a corresponding surge in its digital audience since it closed its doors. Meanwhile Art Basel has rushed through the development of its digital viewing rooms (which had over €248 million of art on display for its Hong Kong inauguration) and Hauser and Wirth is hosting its first digital-only exhibition, a collection of drawings by Louise Bourgeois.

But for gallery-goers who are yet to log on, visiting these aforementioned virtual venues is likely to result in disappointment.

I found myself nodding along vigorously to this part further down.

Perhaps the answer lies in the more creative use of an established medium. It’s interesting to note that, as lockdown was looming, and perhaps in a nod to the insufficiency of the above interfaces, The Van Gogh Museum launched an alternative form of the gallery tour. A series of seven carefully choreographed 4K films, available on their YouTube channel, walk the user through the museum’s various rooms to an accompanying sound track. It’s clearly a more prescribed way of experiencing both the art and the space, but one that also feels more natural. The camera movement doesn’t equate to a true point-of-view walkthrough; the stabilized image glides through the rooms in a rather disembodied way. But the manner in which it glances across paintings, occasionally stopping and approaching a particularly affecting portrait before pulling back, does a far better job of transmitting the pleasure of being in the presence of the artefacts than staccato jumping and zooming.

That’s certainly been my experience. I’ve been randomly clicking around the National Gallery for a while now, feeling like that Anish Kapoor fan unable to find his way out.

virtual-exhibition-1

So I think I’ll head over to the Van Gogh Museum’s YouTube channel, after I’ve been guided round the Tate’s Warhol exhibition.

Andy Warhol exhibition guideTate
This major retrospective is the first Warhol exhibition at Tate Modern for almost 20 years. As well as his iconic pop images of Marilyn Monroe, Coca-Cola and Campbell’s soup cans, it includes works never seen before in the UK. […] Join curators Gregor Muir and Fiontán Moran as they discuss Warhol through the lens of the immigrant story, his LGBTQI identity and concerns with death and religion.

There are other ways of approaching this.

 You can download thousands of coloring book pages from museum collectionsMy Modern Met
This year alone touts 117 PDFs from various cultural institutions that can be downloaded and printed right at home, and colored in. You can jump into the past through local advertisements from the West Virginia and Regional History Center Coloring Book or take a ride on a vintage motorcycle with the Harley-Davidson Archive’s digital collection. Visit these exhibits through pages detailing the beloved fairy tale Cinderella, to fascinating diagrams of medical equipment from a bygone era. Simply, there are coloring pages made for every kind of interest a person may have, and the ones available through the #ColorOurCollections website will help you refine your coloring skills at the same time.

Manchester Museum in Quarantine
We believe connection and inspiration is needed during challenging times like this one. We have uploaded our digital content onto this mobile site so you can explore and enjoy Manchester Museum in your own home. We hope it helps entertain, educate and sparks joy and wonder until we re-open.

An augmented reality tool to sell art during the pandemicDesign Milk
ALL World is a self-publishing platform that allows artists to digitally exhibit and sell their work via augmented reality. Artists and designers can upload images of their work, create AR exhibitions, and then share it with users, allowing them to visualize the work within their own space. By being able to see the work at scale in context, the guesswork of whether or not it will work dissolves which could potentially create more sales. While it’s a great tool for established artists and designers, imagine what it could do for those just starting out and struggling to get eyes on their work.

Perhaps some normality (kind of) is slowly returning.

German galleries will reopen next week with strict precautionsArtsy
Galleries in Germany are carefully preparing to reopen their doors over the next few weeks as the government begins to lift business restrictions in the wake of COVID-19. These reopenings will come with strict precautions including a visitor limit and facemasks.

‘Bring your own mask’: German art galleries prepare to reopen in a new reality, giving US dealers a preview of things to comeArtNet
“I am more than thrilled to be opening again. Galleries cannot exist in an online-only world,” dealer André Schlechtriem tells Artnet News. “My gallery is a personal social space where every visitor is greeted personally by myself or my staff. We are always happy to answer questions and talk about the art we present. That’s what we live for.”

Meanwhile.

‘We are all Edward Hopper paintings now’: is he the artist of the coronavirus age?The Guardian
Who can fail to have been moved by all the images of people on their doorsteps clapping for the NHS last night? They filled TV screens and news websites, presenting a warming picture of solidarity in enforced solitude – all alone yet all together. But there are some far less reassuring images circulating on social media. Some people are saying we now all exist inside an Edward Hopper painting. It doesn’t seem to matter which one.

Cyberspace for cattle?

Yesterday I shared an example of how technology can be used to help us, but I had to check the date when I saw this article — we’ve not jumped to the 1st of April, have we?

Cows wearing VR headsets might produce better milkEngadget
It’s not just humans who can benefit from VR. Moscow-area farmers strapped modified VR headsets to cows to see if it improved their mood — and, of course, their milk production. The project subjected cattle to a simulated summer field with colors tuned for the animals’ eyes, giving them a decidedly more pleasing landscape than a plain, confining farm.

What a time to be alive.

The research begs a few questions. Why not just put the cows in fields more often? How do you deal with battery life? And is there a risk of disturbing cows when you take their headsets off and show them dreary reality?

cyberspace-for-cattle-1

And how would they eat? And what will they see when they look at each other? What a stupid idea.

Flying with Dalí and Laurie

More from that Dalí museum in Florida. This time, an interactive 360° video that you can click-and-drag your way around, as you fly through one of his paintings.

Silence your lobster phone and melt into a Dalí-inspired dreamscape
Salvador Dalí’s painting Archeological Reminiscence of Millet’s Angelus (1935) is a surreal reimagining of Jean-François Millet’s painting The Angelus (1859). Dalí’s work recasts the peasant couple of the original as towering stone figures, with the woman looming over the man in a show of female sexual dominance. Created as part of a virtual reality exhibition at the Dalí Museum in St Petersburg in Florida, this video allows viewers to step inside the work’s dreamy, uncanny landscape, as they fly through a tour of a world inspired by the painting – one that’s rife with additional Dalí Easter eggs. Beyond a simply entrancing immersive experience, Dreams of Dalí hints at even more sophisticated VR art experimentation to come in the near future.

Dreams of Dali: 360º Video

Here’s some more artistic VR, this time of a more literary nature.

Laurie Anderson introduces her virtual reality installation that lets you fly magically through stories
The piece allows viewers the opportunity to travel not only into the space of imagination a story creates, but into the very architecture of story itself—to walk, or rather float, through its passageways as words and letters drift by like tufts of dandelion, stars, or, as Anderson puts it, like snow. “They’re there to define the space and to show you a little bit about what it is,” says the artist in the interview above, “But they’re actually fractured languages, so it’s kind of exploded things.” She explains the “chalkroom” concept as resisting the “perfect, slick and shiny” aesthetic that characterizes most computer-generated images. “It has a certain tactility and made-by-hand kind of thing… this is gritty and drippy and filled with dust and dirt.”

Laurie Anderson interview: a virtual reality of stories
In this exclusive video, Laurie Anderson presents her prizewinning virtual reality work from 2017: “I wanted to see what it would be like to travel through stories, to make the viewer feel free,” the legendary multimedia artist says.

A history of urban futures

How about this for an unsettling glimpse into the future?

Hyper-reality
Hyper-Reality presents a provocative and kaleidoscopic new vision of the future, where physical and virtual realities have merged, and the city is saturated in media.

It serves as the introduction to this fantastic overview of augmented reality in urban environments.

City Skins: Scenes from an augmented urban reality
In one scene, the film’s protagonist-user (“Juliana”), becomes confused, even anxious, by a technical glitch which forces a reboot of her device while shopping for food, showing the viewer a brief glimpse of a un-augmented and totally featureless supermarket, clearly designed for the express purpose of accommodating a digital overlay. Matsuda’s film ultimately suggests that augmented reality may become so commonplace as to be essential to making sense of the world.

However futuristic it may seem, location-based augmented reality (virtual reality’s more successful but less hyped cousin) has been around for a while.

Growing interest in location-based AR projects, beginning in the late 1990s, can be in part attributed to the confluence of art and networking technologies which emerged out of the gradual popularization of the Internet and the influence of “net art.” Net art, according to critic Josephine Bosma, has often concerned itself with “the public domain as a virtual, mediated space consisting of both material and immaterial matter,” indicating a conceptual and ethical foundation for augmented reality’s radical leap from the space of the screen to a “hybrid space” mixing real and virtual elements.

Near the tail end of the 20th century, pseudonymous author and technologist Ben Russell released The Headmap Manifesto — a utopian vision of augmented reality referencing Australian aboriginal songlines and occult tomes, while pulling heavily from cybernetic theory and the Temporary Autonomous Zones of Hakim Bey. At turns both wildly hypothetical and eerily prescient, Headmap explores in-depth the implications of “location-aware” augmented reality as a kind of “parasitic architecture” affording ordinary people the chance to annotate and re-interpret their environment.

That might sound too abstract and theoretical, but here’s an example of a very real-world, poignant use of AR.

Following the release of the first iPhone and advancements in mobile phone cameras and processing power, AR began to move toward the more visually-dominant experiences we are familiar with today — in the process also opening up possibilities for more explicitly political projects. The group 4 Gentlemen, for instance, embraced AR as a tool for criticizing oppressive government policies in China. A collective of exiled Chinese artists and one American artist, 4 Gentlemen (taking their name from a group of intellectual dissidents central to the Tiananmen Student Protest in 1989) developed a series of works that digitally recreated in situ both the famous “Tank Man” image and the “Goddess of Democracy” statue — two symbols of the Tiananmen protest which have defined the struggle for democracy and human rights in China since.

urban-futures