Buzzfeed has a really great feature story aptly titled "'A Honeypot For Assholes': Inside Twitter’s 10-Year Failure To Stop Harassment", which inadvertently illustrates Raph Koster's adage that all new Internet platforms replicate problems managers of MUDs and MMOs have dealt with for some three decades -- namely trolls and other bad actors:
If you want to fully understand Twitter’s abuse problem, a good place to start is at Google, years before the first tweet was ever sent. While working at Blogger, the wildly popular Google-owned publishing tool, Twitter founders Ev Williams, Biz Stone, and Jason Goldman — all of whom went on to found or work at Twitter — were faced with what now feels like a familiar predicament. [I.E. harassment and abusive speech] Working with Alexander Macgillivray, a die-hard free speech advocate who was then a Google attorney, Blogger made a core principle of the universal right to publish, despite outside criticism. “We don’t get involved in adjudicating whether something is libel or slander,” Goldman told Forbes in 2005. The passage that followed reads like it could be written about Twitter today: “In squabbles between anonymous bloggers and victims Google sides with the attackers, refusing to turn over any information unless a judge orders it to open up. ‘We’ll do it if we believe we are required to by law,’ [Goldman] says.”
Emphasis mine, because WTF. Notably, this policy was resisted vociferously by Sheryl Sandberg, who went on to become COO of the real name-based Facebook.
The lessons for next generation virtual worlds are clear, but not very reassuring:
If People Are Too Embarrassed to Speak to Siri in Public, Why Would They Wear Augmented Reality Glasses Outside?
In the latest example of my "culture trumps technology" rule of thumb, here's the latest striking datapoint:
According to a recent study by Creative Strategies, some 98 percent of iPhone users have used Siri, the virtual assistant baked into every iPhone since the 4s. However, just 3 percent of us are using the feature in public or in front of others.
“With public usage as low as 3% for iPhone users, it seems users are still uncomfortable talking to their devices,” the research firm said in a statement. “Even more fascinating is this happens in the U.S. where consumers are accustomed to talking loudly on phones in public.”
In other words: People are embarrassed to be heard speaking to an AI. This despite the fact that Siri is widely available to a large percentage of the market (i.e. anyone with access to an iPhone), the technology has been available for almost five years, and it comes from Apple, the undisputed master of creating popular, consumer friendly computing devices.
Like I said, this is just the latest example of culture trumping technology, another recent, obvious, apropos example being the death of Google Glass. Speaking of which, I hope everyone in the augmented reality industry is discussing this right now:
In my Wired article last week, after I quoted Palmer Luckey saying that he'd "absolutely" plug into Robert Nozick's experience machine, and that “Once you’ve perfected VR, you can imagine a world where you don’t need to perfect anything else”, Palmer posted this quote on my Facebook wall:
"What’s the difference between the real world and the virtual one?"— Palmer Luckey (@PalmerLuckey) January 20, 2016
"The quantity of data, that's all." pic.twitter.com/khz3YOT89d
I had to dig a bit for the reference, and turns out it's from Sword Art Online, a manga/anime series. So there's that.
I quoted John Carmack, Luckey's CTO at Oculus, as saying, "[S]ome fraction of the desirable experiences of the wealthy can be synthesized and replicated [in VR] for a much broader range of people", and “If people are having a virtually happy life, they are having a happy life. Period.” His response on that:
Mark Frauenfelder of Boing Boing fame has a really interesting interview with computer scientist and Bitcoin advocate Andreas Antonopoulos, who makes a use case for the virtual currency I haven't quite seen before: As a means of bringing the billions of impoverished people without access to the mainstream financial system into the global economy. Sample:
If you look at the statistics, financial inclusion is getting worse. That doesn’t make any sense unless you consider that, in the meantime, the traditional currencies and digital finance systems have been getting more and more prone to surveillance and tied to identity where everything is tracked. They’re closing in on themselves in order to maintain this ironclad control over who sends money to who, all in the name of terrorist prevention and anti-money laundering, which is bullshit because HSBC could money-launder billions...
You cannot create global finance and economic inclusion on the back of a carefully controlled show-us-your-papers identity-based system where everything is tracked. What you create is a global surveillance dystopia. Our entire financial system is heading into this thing where everything is surveilled. Bitcoin is heading in exact opposite direction. No identity by default, from weak pseudonymity to a stronger and stronger anonymity as time goes by. As a result, it doesn’t do borders. It doesn’t care about borders. It doesn’t do Know Your Customer. It doesn’t do Anti-Money Laundering. It doesn’t do those things because those things are bourgeois concepts of the privileged financial elite. Those bourgeois concepts have a four-billion-people-in-poverty price tag.
Bitcoin, of course, is also a bourgeois concept par excellence, a libertarian conceit largely supported by the wealthy (and mostly white) tech elite. That somewhat unfair snark aside, Antonopoulos is very right that the unbanked majority of the world need a scalable financial solution.
Does that mean Bitcoin is the answer? Three facts spring to mind which make me think otherwise:
Now this is pretty impressive, and an interesting solution to an existing problem in VR development:
"The industry's dirty little secret with VR development," says Epic founder Tim Sweeney, "is we're developing these VR experiences while we're sitting at a PC using a mouse and keyboard." This isn't actually a secret, but it's something that feels increasingly weird as the technology improves. Things like a sense of scale don't translate well between flat screens and VR; props that feel normal in a traditional PC game, for example, might look outlandishly large or small in an immersive environment.
The controls are a bit similar to what I've seen with High Fidelity, but much more complex and suitable for professional 3D modelers. One small problem:
New World Notes has been around so long, about 20% of my daily traffic comes from Google searches -- most of which make sense, but some leave me totally perplexed. For instance, here's four posts that always show up in my traffic feed every day:
Even from just reading the HTML code you can guess what people are searching for in the first two and the fourth one. (The second, on Skyrim's disturbing slavery mods, is a classic by Janine Hawkins.)
The third one, however, I don't know WTF. It's Janine's post about an SLer who modeled her avatar after "Pinky", Thomas Lawrence's classic painting from 1794. Thing is, I don't even know what search terms are bringing people to it, because using any keyword related to that painting doesn't display my blog. And it's brought something like ten thousand people to New World Notes from I don't know where, for I don't know why.
I was recently using Slack, the team-based messaging app, when a bad link sent me to this wryly amusing 404 page:
This is an in-joke within an in-joke, because this is art from (and a reference to) Glitch, the web-based MMO founded by Stewart Butterfield a few years ago. Thing is, Glitch suffered an untimely death at the end of 2012, but something else emerged in the process of creating and managing it*:
Then in 2009, Butterfield founded Tiny Speck, pulling in game vets like Journey’s Robin Hunicke and Katamari Damacy creator Keita Takahasi, to launch a browser-based online game called Glitch. Beloved by many—but ultimately not enough—fans, Glitch shuttered in 2012. But again a seed grew. Butterfield transitioned some of Tiny Speck’s staff, alongside some hard-learned lessons about onboarding new users to build a commercial communication tool that Tiny Speck had used to build Glitch. Last August, Slack was launched as an “email killer” and a way to transform how businesses talk and do work together.
"E-mail killer" is a bold statement, but it's definitely true that at this point, if you work in tech, you are almost certainly using Slack. Countless tech companies large and small utterly depend on Slack now. So while Glitch's small but passionate userbase (many of whom jumped over from Second Life) mourned the passing of the world they'd come to love, there's an ironic but sweet coda to that passing:
PC Sales Keep Slipping, Confirming a Mobile-Driven Future for Virtual Reality (If It Has a Non-Niche Future at All)
For consumers, the most powerful virtual reality platform requires a PC, but PC sales keep eroding that potential audience beyond the niche of hardcore PC gamers:
As you can see in the chart [above], Gartner said Apple was the only company among the top vendors that experienced an increase in PC shipments. Acer saw particularly poor results with double-digit declines... IDC, meanwhile, estimated worldwide PC shipments dropped 10.6 percent to 71.9 million units in the ourth quarter. The firm noted “the year-on-year decline in 2015 shipments was nevertheless the largest in history, surpassing the decline of -9.8% in 2013.”