Jon Oakes is the Technology Labs Coordinator at the San Jose State University Library, and he’s also been quite involved in helping to organize the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Meetup and Conference. He held a VR Connect gathering at SJSU the day after Oculus Connect 6, which had a number of different talks and demos.
I had a chance to catch up with Oakes there to talk about some of his thoughts about Oculus Connect as a gathering, and to some of his thoughts on the social VR strategy of Facebook and his initial impressions of the Facebook Horizon. I had a chance to actually try out a demo of Facebook Horizon, and so I share some of my first-hand impressions as well as some of the feedback I got from AR/VR content marketing head Meaghan Fitzgerald & director of AR/VR experiences Eric Romo (I did an interview with them, but Facebook didn’t want me to record audio and so I share some highlights from my conversation with Jon).
Jon and I also talk about what he’s doing as a VR evangelist and enabler of immersive education there at San Jose State University. Libraries are turning into interdisciplinary learning centers, and so he’s been working with professors at SJSU to figure out how they can start to integrate different aspects of VR technologies within the curriculum there. We also talk about the challenges of archiving and indexing virtual reality experiences, and Oakes is actively looking for insights for how to help the librarians start to treat immersive XR experiences as seriously as they are for other rich media such as photos and videos.
We also talk about the evolution of the community fostered by the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality conference, and some of the market dynamics that have had Oculus take the lead on facilitating what is the most interdisciplinary community gather of XR creators each year at Oculus Connect. We lament the loss of some of the community-lead spirit of SVVR, but the entire conference industry in Silicon Valley isn’t set up to support community-lead initiatives. So we talk about some of the history and evolution of the community at SVVR relative to how things shifted once Oculus started also holding their annual Oculus Connect conference at the San Jose Convention Center starting at OC3 in 2016.
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[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So this is the final episode of my initial series of coverage from Oculus Connect 6. I ended up doing 27 interviews over 17 hours of conversations over four days, and I've picked out the six different conversations in about four hours of that content. to kind of pick out the different highlights where we more explicitly talk about some of the aspects of Facebook and Oculus and some of the announcements and Oculus Connect 6 as a gathering. But I'll be diving into all sorts of other topics around education and other themes that were coming up there as well in future batches of episodes. So after this series, I have a talk that I'm giving at the Greenlight Virtual Reality Strategy Conference. It's going to be about privacy and ethics. And so I do have a number of different episodes that are looking at ethics and privacy that I definitely want to get out before I go and give this talk at Greenlight. And then I'll kind of open it up again and check in with the Patreon community and get some feedback in terms of other topics that you want to hear next. I allowed my Patreon supporters to be able to vote on a number of different topics and I think, you know, I went through about three of those and then I think it's worth checking in again since there's some new topics that have come up since then and just kind of check in with folks and see how things are going with this new approach of batch releases. So this episode is with John Oakes. He is currently at the San Jose State University at the library there doing the technology labs coordinator. So he's helping facilitate and bring virtual reality technologies kind of in the trenches of education, working with different professors and seeing how they could take what is already commercially available and start to use it within a classroom context. And so it's interesting to see all the stuff that John is doing there. John also talks about his involvement with the Silicon Valley virtual reality meetup and the conference and how, you know, he was going to start the meetup himself, but Carl Krantz had already created it a few days prior to him. And so he's been pretty much going to a number of those different meetups over the years and sharing that history and his perspective of being a community organizer there and some of the challenges of what it took to run the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference and the different competition and dynamics once Oculus Connect moved up in Silicon Valley, then that kind of sucked the air out of a lot of what they were doing there. So John just shares some of his experiences as a community organizer there, but also reflecting upon what Facebook has been able to create with Oculus Connect as, in some sense, the biggest interdisciplinary gathering of VR that happens each and every year. And then finally, we're going to be diving into some of what John thinks about the Facebook horizon, just from his perspective and observations of what he thinks is going to make a successful social VR platform, especially as compared to what other platforms are doing like VR chat and rec room and alt space and Mozilla hubs. And just to see some of the different strategies that they've taken and looking and reflecting a little bit on the previous social strategy of Facebook and reflecting on why they maybe haven't had. as much success in the social VR realm. Kind of ironically, since this is Facebook's whole jam is these social networks, but yet a lot of their social VR experience that they've been doing have had a number of different series of false starts. And so we'll just kind of be unpacking that a little bit more and, and I'll be sharing at the end, some of my reflections of actually having a chance to do the Facebook horizon demo and just kind of reflecting on that further based upon what John has to say about it. So we're covering all that and more on today's episode of the Wastes of VR podcast. So this interview with John happened on Friday, September 27th, 2019 at the Martin Luther King Library at the San Jose State University campus, the day after Oculus Connect 6 in San Jose, California. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:03:53.118] Jon Oakes: Hi, I'm John Oakes. I am currently working at San Jose State University in the library as technology labs coordinator, which means I work with VR, AR, and maker technologies to expose students and faculty to technology, even if they're not technology focused in their area of study. So for example, bringing business users into VR to figure out how to use it in business or psychology users. Especially artists, love getting artists in to play with technology. And I've been doing that for almost a year. Prior to that, I was at Silicon Valley Virtuality, helping organize the conferences and various activities there. And prior to that, I was doing VR as an indie developer with some friends and been doing this since the Kickstarter launched back then. So I've been around doing VR full-time in some form for the last six years.
[00:04:41.634] Kent Bye: Wow, great. And so maybe you could give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into VR.
[00:04:47.962] Jon Oakes: So my VR journey probably starts back in the early 90s. In my early career, I was working at a company called CompuServe, which is an online information service, pre-internet. And I was on the West Coast, I was one of the few people in California, because the company was based back in Ohio, and working with high-tech companies, trying to figure out how to help them deliver support via dial-up access. And this thing came out called VRML, which Tony Parisi had invented along with his partners there. And we tried like heck to get VRML to work up over a dial-up connection because I was really excited about the idea of virtual reality because I was a cyberpunk fiction fan and thought this could lead into that. And so I did some work around that and eventually abandoned it because the World Wide Web came along and we adopted the internet and we just figured, well, that must be, you know, VR was a good fantasy, but the web is kind of going to be what the metaverse is. And we kind of put it on the back burner for years, even though there was commercial interest in it and military interest, it just didn't seem like it was going to happen. Then, as everybody else knows, I kind of kept an eye on things. And then when the Kickstarter came out with Palmer, with Oculus, I was intrigued. I wasn't even looking at it as a career at that point. It was just kind of an interesting distraction. But I was in early. I was under the first, almost 1,000th backer. and got my dev kit in the mail and went and looked to see if there was anybody else in the Bay Area that I was thinking maybe there's like five or six other people we could get together with and one on meetup.com and I was going to start a meetup and noticed that Carl Krantz had just like two days I think before started SVVR meetup. So I packed up my DK-1 and my laptop and I went to the first SVVR meetup and was just blown away. The place was packed. There was 90 people there. Many of them have since become some of my best friends in the world. And we did the talks and that meetup was kind of historic. But the funniest thing was I was sitting there giving VR demos next to Nate Mitchell for the whole evening and I didn't even know who Nate Mitchell was. I had no idea. He said he worked at Oculus. I thought he was an engineer. So I just still at that point wasn't interested in VR as a career until the first SVVR conference when I kind of realized that there was hundreds and hundreds of people interested in VR doing real serious work and real serious development and I was just, I had fallen in love with it and I realized this was going to really happen this time and decided that I had to, I had to make my mark on this whatever this was going to end up being whether that was as a developer or as a business person and so did the old sail to the new world and burned my ships. I had a company that was supporting me and I told my partners that I was gonna leave and do VR full-time and they all thought I was crazy and maybe I was but my wife was okay with it and so I took a leave of absence from my company and started working on some games which we shipped by Oculus Connect 2. We were just reminiscing about that because this is the week of Oculus Connect 6 and some friends and I had put together a couple of Dink games we demoed and then unfortunately the CV1 never quite came out in the time frame we expected and we all ran out of money. So yeah, since then I pivoted and started working with Carl full-time on developing the community side, working in business development with the various VR startups, helping them either find investors or get into conferences and doing meetups and doing all the community building behind the scenes to do what we can to provide for, you know, what Carl coined as a healthy, diverse ecosystem of VR. And that's a philosophy I fully endorse. I think like you and a lot of your listeners, we don't want a monopolistic VR future. We want a very diverse ecosystem of ideas and technologies interacting in an open way because VR is going to be so important to our future. We don't want anybody to have it all. We want to be able to share it and have different companies and different voices and different ideas exchange ourselves. And I think SVVR was one of the few organizations that had that in its DNA. It wasn't after market domination. It's not after trying to own anything. It's just after enabling things and I really love that about SVVR. But organizing conferences is a tough business and it's exhausting and after a while I realized I wasn't as close to the technology as I could be and there was things I wanted to do. So I kind of took a year off. Last year there's a lot of reasons for that. I had some personal illnesses in my family and kind of some other things going on so I kind of backed off from the whole industry and did some perspective taking and then through a series of chance meetings. I found myself here at San Jose State working with some folks in the College of Education on how they could incorporate VR into the classroom and those conversations led to me being recommended to come apply for here at the library and San Jose State has a really progressive view of libraries in terms of not just a house for books, which was frankly was my perception when I applied here, and I didn't realize how services-oriented libraries have become. They still do have books, but they're way more focused on providing supporting services for students, for the public, and one of the things they're trying to do is be an interdisciplinary hub. for students to explore technology regardless of if they're an engineer or dance major or an accountant. They want students to have those tools that are such powerful tools that may not be available to people in their everyday lives. And they wanted me to help do that with VR and AR and with maker technologies. And that was an opportunity I couldn't resist. So I've been doing that since December of 2018. And here we are today. I guess it's my 10th month here. decided with my organizing experience, I wanted to have a little event, a little contemplative day after Oculus Connect where people could come and relax and kind of sink in and have some deep conversations. And I think it's worked out pretty well so far. So we're here after Oculus Connect just relaxing in the library.
[00:10:52.922] Kent Bye: And so have you been to all the SVVR meetups then?
[00:10:55.853] Jon Oakes: I have not made all of them. We just had our 67th one and I think I've missed probably five in the last few years for various reasons from travel or illness or whatever. But yeah, I think the only, frankly, I think the only person that's been to all 67 is Carl. But no, I've been to quite a few of them and there's very few that I haven't made and it's just, you know, it's like family. So SVVR is like how I mark time in VR, you know, how I, the conferences are one way, but the meetups kind of like snapshots of people's careers and how the projects they're working on, their wins and their losses. I mean, And let's face it, there's a lot of people that have really struggled to find their place in the VR ecosystem, at least in terms of economic viability. But everyone I know, I think they all feel really good about the experiences that they've had with the community and the meetups are just a place for, I think it's gone from a place of the hype cycle was pretty strong and the place of entrepreneurial dreaming to sometimes being kind of a support group for enduring the nuclear winter of the trough. But I feel like it's coming back. I feel like people are feeling optimistic about their ability to deliver interesting solutions, to make a living, to find people who are willing to pay them for their work. And it's not where I would like it to be yet, but I feel like there's hope. And I feel like there's people who are now like seriously able to pay their rent and scale a business and make a difference in other people's lives using VR and AR technologies that three years ago, two years ago was just impossible. So I feel it's pretty good. I feel like long term, even though we've been through some bumps, the trend is very positive. There's still going to be challenges ahead, but I feel like it's still a good time to learn VR and take it seriously. And I can tell from working with the students here, there's still a lot of work to be done because I've had hundreds of students come through the lab in the past year, and very few of them had ever tried VR in any form, including Google Cardboard. which we assumed would be a wide adoption curve at some point. But most of them have never tried VR and they do try it and they love it. And the other thing is, because they're young and their minds are not set in any modes of interaction, they adopt to it like a fish to water. It's just amazing to watch. I mean, I brought in a group of artists who had never tried Quill or Tilt Brush or Medium. and I gave them like a quick 20-minute tutorial on how to do the art. And I'm not an artist, I can never get anything beautiful out of any of those products, although I like to play with them. And by the end of the three-hour lab, these kids were already collaborating on really beautiful scenes, because of course they're artists, they know how to do art. they knew how to do it in 2D and adding it to 3D they adapted to it seamlessly and it was a beautiful thing. So now I'm getting them back in and we're going to have an artist studio for VR with the idea of creating and curating a VR art museum here out of the library so that they can have a permanent home for the virtual artwork that they're creating. So, bring that back around. I mean, I feel like the first wave of people who have been through the ups and downs of the VR hype cycle, we've reached that level of a platform of VR that these other students, who'd had to go through all those slings and arrows, can come in and take advantage of some of the work that other people have done, and it's gonna be a hyper-accelerator for what gets created after this. So in other words, the first generation created Tilt Brush, created Medium, created Quill, created VRChat, created Rec Room, created all the Unity, you know, oh my god, doing Unity six years ago with VR was just a nightmare and now it's like trivial. I can teach somebody to do it in an afternoon. So all that work that got put into building these tool chains and these applications are going to just pay huge dividends because now I get to bring in a student who's never seen VR before and show them where we're at and they're just going to take it to the next level and bring even more amazing new ideas. So I'm very excited about that. So yeah. Anyway, I think you just asked me if I ever missed a VR meetup and I went off, but I have a lot to say about VR.
[00:14:54.612] Kent Bye: No, that's good because part of my own story of really doing the Voices of VR podcast is in large part because of the first SVVR conference that was on May 19th and 20th, 2014. And I got my Rift on January 1st, 2014, and so I had created a VR experience. I was craving a get-together, a community coming together, and I was waiting for it to happen. I lived in Portland, Oregon, and so there was a VR meet-up there. And actually, I ended up starting the VR meet-up there later, just because no one else had done it. So Raven, Zachary, and I started it, and then was doing it for a while, and then kind of passed it off to Joshua Young and Design Reality now. back to my own journey is you know signing up to do a 60-second pitch and then I had an idea and then I sort of Scrapped that idea and I was like I need something that's actual to pitch and then that's when I decided I was gonna start the voices of VR podcast because of the pitch at SVVR and so there's something about SVVR that has been a key part of the evolution of virtual reality of this iteration because it's this community point where people have been able to come together and and It's a little anomalous in this context that is so market-driven. There's a lot of cooperation, but at the end of the day, in terms of finances, it's very difficult to get money to support these type of community-led initiatives because each of the companies, they don't have a budget to say, here's money we're going to put into the ecosystem where we're not going to have to worry about where it goes. There's marketing budgets. There's developer relations budgets, but there's no budget to say we're gonna fund an ecosystem and the lack of that I've felt that to a certain extent I know that SVVR has felt that and I know that the challenge of doing something like the SVVR conference was that to try to really do a true interdisciplinary conference with bringing all the different areas together, you end up in this space where there's GDC for gaming, there's Sundance for film, there's like, if you're doing an application that's doing for medical, then it's arguable that it's better to go to the medical conference to show there. So the expo sort of dynamics there is like, who is the audience? If it's a bunch of VR people, then It was a dream of trying to really have the whole VR community come together, and it's kind of turned out that Oculus Connect has been that gathering point that brings the community together, but it's sort of under the agenda and context of Facebook. It's not really community driven or community led. It's great that it's still happening with Oculus, but I feel like there's a certain amount of frustration that people have having it within that context. It's like, oh, I almost wish that it was more of that community-led, like the SVVR vibe. But at the same time, the way that economics is laid out is that it's very difficult to really financially sustain that type of big conference. So I feel like you've been at the center of all that and all those dynamics.
[00:17:39.170] Jon Oakes: Yeah, I mean, it is ungodly expensive to do a conference in Silicon Valley. And so that drives, people would constantly complain or bemoan the ticket prices for SVVR the last couple of times. And the reality is, it's insanely expensive to rent out the convention center and have food and have hotels. And there's a lot of things that they are just not wired to the system itself of conferences. in general, is not wired to support the idea of a community event. So they're kind of tuned to tap as much money out as they can from Facebook or any big company. We're talking about Facebook because they're the ones who are hosting Oculus Connect. If people think that their $200 or even $400 Oculus Connect ticket paid for that event, they're crazy. I don't know the economics of their, but just kind of looking at it, the ticket price was probably 10% of the cost of the event they just put on. They sunk a lot of cash into this, in terms of production, the lighting, the food. Oh my gosh, they give so much food away. And that's really expensive food. It's not like they went to Costco. And the events, and the number of people there, and the security, and all of that is just really hard to do. So, you know, I think people said to me, probably more, and I'm sure they said it to Carl and others, but they know me as well, so they've said that they wished Oculus Connect was more like SVVR, it was less branded, but obviously Facebook, this conference is a business thing for them. It's not a community thing. And there's nothing inherently wrong with that. I mean, Facebook's money, and they want to promote Oculus as the brand, and they want people to feel good about it, and they did this thing that people feel really good about. I can't really blame them. It's just unfortunate of the economics and geography that people can't afford to fly to California more than once a year if they're far away. They can't afford to go to a lot of conferences, so it did kind of suck the oxygen out of the air, I guess, a little bit for us as conference organizers. But I'm hopeful. I'm hopeful in the long run that there will be another SVVR conference someday where we can get lots of different vendors in one roof. just talk about what they're working on that we can get developer talks that really are focused on developer issues and aren't really just infomercials for tech that isn't available yet. That was my frustration I guess with Oculus Connect this time is that there was nothing particularly actionable that you couldn't take away and like I'm a better developer now or I'm a better advocate for VR, there was stuff that's coming, there was stuff that's kind of like, it was not negative, but it wasn't like meaty. It wasn't meaty. It lacked depth that I think a lot of the people who have been in the industry for a long time. That said, you know, maybe there's a lot of people there that I don't know who are new that needed to hear that kind of high-level stuff to frame their thinking about what they're gonna do with the Facebook ecosystem. I don't know. So we'll see. I feel like people in my conversations were still a little bit hungry for a get-together that was for people who are really living the life of a developer and trying to figure out how to make money in VR, whether it's gaming or enterprise. There's not a lot of places for them to get together and freely exchange ideas. So they were kind of asking for me to, in some cases, to get back into the game. And I'm like, I'm not doing that. It's just too hard. But hopefully, the community can fund it. Maybe we can do it someday. Maybe we should do a Kickstarter. We could get Carl to do a Kickstarter, and we'll see if the community will put their money where their thoughts are and fund a conference and see where that goes. That would be fun.
[00:21:04.595] Kent Bye: Well, here at the VR Connect event that you put on today here at the San Jose State University in the library here, There was Bethany Winslow who was talking about the Second Life and Open Sims and how there's actual virtual conferences that have been going on for 10 years now. The virtual world conference that's with the Open Sim. So people kind of migrating away from Second Life and doing education stuff within virtual worlds. So perhaps maybe having a VR conference in VR and to notice that it's not so focused on the actual tech demos because it's hard to do tech demos. And it's also, I think, difficult to have people set aside a whole day where they make themselves available. to really just be there for a couple of days and I think that's a real value. I love the fact that Oculus has brought the community together and that they have invested millions and millions of dollars in putting on these events because there's been so much value from my perspective of just bringing the community together. And I feel like there are a lot of opportunities for people to go to introductory talks and The talks are all recorded. They're made available very quickly. And there are demos. But for me, more than anything else, it's just the community coming together. And it's just an opportunity for me to check in with people, see what people are working on, to have my mind blown. year after year to see how things are progressing, what people are doing, what they're working on. And so, they're doing a huge service of cultivating that community, but SVVR also has ways of cultivating that community of like, just at number 67, with listening to what Justin Morowitz is doing with his sort of adult-themed VR content, which you would never see at any type of Oculus Connect event. And so, to see that diversity of what people are doing from that independent developer perspective that may not be within the bounds or the terms of service filtered out by the curation policies of Oculus. So I think that there's been a huge service of that community. So what what do you see was the key either elements of what made that successful as a community or the challenges? Or I'm just trying to get a sense of since you've been spending so much time as a community organizer, I feel like there's been a huge impact of that. But it's also, it can be a little bit of a thankless job. It can be invisible and not always be rewarded financially. But for me, it's like an underlying fabric of those connections and bringing people together. And it seems like it's something that's drawn you personally to be involved with that.
[00:23:22.435] Jon Oakes: Yeah, I mean, I love, well, let's see. So I gotta, I, you know, I think I can't speak for anybody else, but for me, it was never, my time with SVR was never really about like making a ton of money. It was about really making sure that VR happened, that we created a place. I mean, and this is my earlier conversation with Carl, I was like, that we wanted to make sure that the VR people who were not, into the big ecosystems had a place. That there was a place for independent hardware tinkerers to come and pitch their weird grips, like tactical haptics, right? You know, and that the independent developers who would never get on any store or wouldn't get any attention would have a place. Or even internationally, you know, there's a big contingent of SVVR folks in Japan who do really weird and wonderful things. And I mean that, like, it's weird and wonderful and just such a different take on VR that we don't have here that I think SVR brings to the table that Oculus doesn't seem to have. And the other thing is not everything that is good in VR needs to have mass consumer adoption. Some things can be very niche and very important. Like you mentioned this morning. you know, James Blaha and his company doing stereo vision correction. Yeah, Vivid Vision. Vivid Vision would never probably, you know, it's not an Oculus product. I mean, they might use their products, but it's not something you're going to get on the store. It's very, very focused on a specific thing. And I feel like SVR played a lot in the early days of him figuring that out, getting initially going, and now they're off to the races, and I think they're doing pretty well, last I heard. So there's things like that, and artists and tinkerers and people who are serious about VR but aren't necessarily trying to make a Beat Saber, that are just trying to get their voice heard, whether it's storytelling or experimental or just a passion project of a game even that they really like that might not be a mass appeal game. Those people need a place to come together, connect, make connections for investment, make connections for developer teams. I can't tell you, I mean, at one point we started counting like how many companies formed out of meeting people at our meetups. And there was quite a lot. I mean, Altspace was one that was probably very well known. that I remember when, like, Eric Romo came and was, like, presenting AltSpace for the very first time. It turned into a hundred different things between that time, but, like, he was there, he was gonna do it anyway, but I feel like he found his team through those meetups, just as a really notable example, and now he's running Horizons. So his journey's amazing, and, you know, it's a hard thing, because I don't think, you know, anybody at SVR could say, oh, we took credit for that, but It's kind of like, I feel like SVVR definitely, and Carlos more than anybody, plowed the fields and watered the dirt and made it a fertile landscape for those kind of things to pop up. And that's what I fell in love with. I love that idea. And I think that's why I came to San Jose State and why I did this one day thing, because I was like really hungering for that, you know, organic, like, hey, let's just get together and show our stuff and talk to each other about what we think. So, you know, my journey, I think, has led me here, and I feel pretty good about it, that the spirit of SVVR lives on in kind of making people aware of this technology, what its capabilities are, what its risks are, and not necessarily tied to a big brand story, and not necessarily with the idea of making $10 million off of a game. Although those things are good. People making money is good. I have no problem with that, but I think there's more to it than that. I think there's things that are important about VR and how we interact with each other that go beyond what the big brands can do. I was talking to somebody about Horizons, and I don't want to say who I was talking to because they were a Facebook employee, but I was like, you know, you're trying to build a product for a billion people, which no matter what you do, no matter how good you do it, is going to necessarily be a little bit bland because you have to paint with such a broad brush. that you know you can't please all the people all the time and that's what you're trying to do so and you're not going to be willing to take any chances or do anything that's going to make anybody upset or you're not going to be able to afford to handle the edge cases of what people want and I said that's going to lead you to blandness it's going to lead you to sameness And I feel like VR is kind of antithetical to sameness. That being able to express yourself with infinite expressibility is one of the strengths of VR, and it's going to be hard for them to address that. So, in the better news though, where I've kind of come down on Horizons in particular, is it's going to open the doors for a lot of people to the power of social VR. Just like maybe, you know, McDonald's opened up hamburgers to people, I don't know. But they're going to get exposed to it. They're going to say, hey, this is a good idea. What else is out there? And the adventurous ones are going to go find it. As long as the walls don't come down on people being able to do their own thing in social VR, maybe it'll be a good thing. Maybe it'll be the gateway for people to discover other things. But I feel like, man, it's going to be a struggle for them to do something truly special, I think, because of the constraint of having it have to work for everybody. It's going to be tough.
[00:28:25.712] Kent Bye: Yeah, I had a chance to actually do a demo of Horizons and then part of my frustration sometimes with Oculus slash Facebook, because it's essentially Facebook now, is that I did the demo and then they had me do an interview with Eric Romo and Megan, I forget her last name, but the two creators, but they're like, oh, you can't record it, but it's on the record. And I do a podcast. And so I had this whole conversation and ask him all these questions, but then I can't sort of share it. But roughly some of the questions I was asking is like, can you, link out to other things and they have deep link technology so you can potentially link off to other things outside and deep link into like Rec Room so really start to create a way to create in metaverse type of things I don't know if you can kind of come in and go out sometimes you might be able to go in but not go backwards so that was interesting to me I was like asking about WebVR and open standards and that wasn't on the radar maybe it will be And I'm hesitant to sort of go through all the things that I was asking because it's like I wanted to hear what they have to say and provide the full context and so I agree with you in talking to VRChat and seeing how they have five million avatars and they have hundreds of thousands of worlds that have been created and they have this whole like green lit system where you can create private community worlds but if you want to have them publicly listed then it has to have a community vetting process for people to experience and to vote and to see if there's any flags and so their whole content moderation process is to have some sort of filter that they have but it's not just like anybody can publish anything on YouTube and YouTube has different ways of trying to automatically look at DCMA violations or different ways of violence or pornography or ways, but there's also human moderation but to see how these things that scale to look at how things like YouTube things like VR chat are they gonna be able to do that same thing and make it interesting and I wasn't able to try any of the world building tools But that I think is probably one of the more interesting aspects that you can build They showed someone building in the world while I was in there and they were super giant and they're kind of moving stuff around and So, I don't know, the fact that you can link to other things outside of just the Facebook land makes it optimistic that they'll be able to use that as a way to kind of launch off into other things. And what happens with the avatar persistence and what kind of embodiment you have. But yeah, there's gonna be very limited into how you express yourself. They've had so many false starts with social VR oddly, you know, they've started and killed things They're gonna be sun setting spaces and so they're not gonna be continuing in that so they've tried different things But I think that each time they try it They don't have the community driven aspect of something like VR chat or let people to really creatively express themselves either through their avatar expression or in the environments and think because of that they may actually have a really hard time of like There's a difference between MySpace, which you could control what your homepage looked like, and then Facebook page, you can't express your identity. I think that same type of control of not allowing people to really have full expression of their identity, even through their avatar representations, because they're like, they want to make it so that you are you, and you look like you, and they don't want to have anything else. That they're like, that's what their value is, is that When you want to be you in VR with your friends you'll be that in Horizons but you can't sort of be anything that's not what you look like and that will have a role because Facebook you have to be your name so then it's like well you have to look like you but also there's elements where it's tied to your And this was the confusing part, because then it's tied to your Oculus identity. So then because it's your Oculus identity, you can have pseudonyms. So you can maybe have avatar representations that are slightly different, but it's still human in certain ways.
[00:37:26.110] Kent Bye: I do think that there are different contexts and ways that you are able to express yourselves in these different contexts and I feel like the weird thing about Facebook is that it is sort of blurring all the context and Mark Zuckerberg will say we want to have people at the center of all the computing You know, he might be right. I was sort of resistant to that because the way that we use apps, it's like, no, well, I have other things where if I want to look for information, I don't need to go that through the people. I want to just go to the web browser and look something up. It's like, could you imagine like your cell phone being organized around your social network graph? that's what they're trying to create is like they're saying we're going to create something that's people first and I feel like this trend towards communities and having community identities and context they've already started to have the Facebook groups and more and more they're putting more energy in those Facebook groups and all of the communication they've had more public private context like the messaging on Instagram they're moving all the messenger from Instagram's architecture into Facebook messenger architecture. So when you do a more of an ephemeral Instagram story, and when you comment to somebody, it's a private message that then you can have a conversation that then goes to the Facebook messenger or through the Instagram app. But they're at least recognizing that, well, in order to actually have that engagement, you do actually do need to have things that are public and private and have that switch. And so people want that, but I think the weird thing is, is that you're right, is that you have all these different contexts where things happen and will the turning into those groups help preserve those contexts? But, you know, for me, I see in talking to Nathie, who's a YouTuber and talking about things like SideQuest, where, you know, there's a highly curated app store process for Facebook, but then there's a SideQuest. So it'll be interesting to see if there'll be like these back channels for getting content and for people to have alternatives onto the Quest through the SideQuest back channel or things like WebVR, WebXR, where you can put things in a web browser and not have to go through the curation process and have a little bit more latitude. So I feel like there's potentials where there's all these sort of back doors and to kind of bypass some of the operating within the context of those ecosystems by going through the web browser and going through SideQuest. And yeah, I think SideQuest could be like a ticking time bomb where if it starts to make too much money and start to do things that have more security risks, then maybe it gets shut down. So, I don't know. I feel like, for me, I'm happy to see that there are these alternatives, but generally, sort of my takeaway from the Oculus Connect was that people would always ask me, what do you think, what do you think? And I think in some ways, they're asking that in the context of what do I think of the technological things that were announced. I think the gist of me talking to dozens and dozens of people was there's a lot of things that were said and a lot of things that weren't said in terms of ethics and privacy and I feel like the deeper intention of recording all of the world and being able to read your thoughts and read your mind and have these neural interfaces that are getting really intimate with our biometric data I feel like there's a certain amount of unease and people feeling disturbed as to do we really want to have this future that is leading into this IOI of having one company being in control of everything and wanting to see some assurance that they're coming forth and saying, we're committed to an open metaverse. We're committed to self-sovereign identity. We're committed to privacy. At F8, they said the future is private. But they only mentioned privacy a couple of times, one for, of course, there'll be privacy settings, but also for the enterprise. So you have to pay for the privacy. So they're architecting for the privacy, but only for the enterprises.
[00:40:52.918] Jon Oakes: And only if they own that privacy. The future is private, and you have to trust us to keep your stuff private. So I've said this in a couple of other podcasts. I'm always kind of critical of Facebook and Oculus, even though I really adore many people at Facebook and Oculus, and I think the product is good. And I understand what they're trying to do. They're trying to make money. But I also feel like it's in their interest. Facebook wants to win at VR. They can't do anything to close off VR because people will turn against it. VR will be an anathema of culture if it becomes too locked down because people won't want it. I think where Facebook can succeed the best at VR and be a leader in VR is to encourage web VR, encourage Wild and crazy side quest type storefronts to pop up. They don't have to take responsibility for it I mean they can distance themselves from content and security and all that Because I think as they try to put down the barriers too hard it will stifle the market they will suffer and I think they will benefit from a growing, thriving ecosystem of diversity in VR, and they can be the 800-pound gorilla, the mothership, whatever you want to call it, and benefit tremendously from that, because it won't be the only option for users. It will be an option. It will be okay to go to Horizons if you have many separate identities that you're managing on social VR, and it will be okay if you wanted to use the same one on all of them, that's great. And it will be okay for you to have different storefronts, but if they try to make it so that they're the front door to the metaverse, I think, eh, I don't know, man, I don't know. I don't think it's gonna work. I don't think it'll work out for them. I think one of the things that they struggled with with Space is, is that Facebook was the front door, honestly. There was no way to get into it. For one thing, it wasn't even across all their whole platform. But you had to go to Facebook as the front door to get into spaces and do that. And I think if they just kind of let go and said, we're going to provide these great tools, these great APIs, these great hardware, and we're going to create the best social VR experience that we can on our platform. Ensure that open standards are protected that identity management doesn't have to be through them that the data can be private and you can control your own private data We've already proven to them that we will still freely give our information in exchange for ads and do all that but I think what they're pivoting towards is maybe the wrong direction which is Going towards extracting data from us rather than asking us to give it to them like the biometric stuff however that ultimately evolves into
[00:43:27.687] Kent Bye: Recording all of our environments and including in our home and everywhere.
[00:43:30.990] Jon Oakes: Yeah, they're not doing that now they say and but they certainly have the capability to do it and they haven't explicitly ruled it out in their terms of service and There's no laws that prevent them from doing it I mean they could easily you know tomorrow push a new toss and new update and And map it and that would be completely within their rights the way when we sign up for their services we agree that they can change the rules at a moment's notice and So, I think that will, in the long run, potentially hurt them from reaching their ultimate goal. They will get early adopters, they will get what we consider wide adoption right now, but when you look at the ocean of the market that's before us, they will not reach that critical mass of people unless they are more open and more tolerant and more encouraging, frankly. Directly, actively encouraging of open standards across platforms and VR, rather than trying to build the walled garden. We have good people in there. Some of the people you mentioned, I think, are really good people and have those issues at heart. I don't know, obviously, what goes on at the upper echelons of the company, and I don't know what kind of pressures there are or what their real thoughts are, but I feel like horizons will be huge, but I don't know if it will be successful. I guess that's how I would say it. It will be huge. I don't know if it'll be as successful as they need it to be to exist in the way that they imagine it. We'll see. They got good people working on it, but I feel like once people get in there, it's going to be an appetizer and not the main course. It's people are going to want more than what they can possibly offer because people don't want the same thing. I think it's going to be an interesting play. But we'll find out. It's going to launch next year. And I don't think it'll look anything like the ad we saw on the video. I think it's going to look a lot different. People will be like, I didn't see this. So we'll see. We'll see what happens.
[00:45:15.576] Kent Bye: Well, for you, what are some of the either biggest open questions you're trying to answer or open problems you're trying to solve?
[00:45:22.340] Jon Oakes: Okay, completely off of the whole ecosystem thing. Right now I'm working on trying to figure out, personally my projects are around using VR in education in the trenches. I'm talking to individual professors about individual classes and individual use cases for bringing VR and AR and other kinds of technology like electronics or whatever into their classrooms. and getting students to engage with it. For example, we've had business classes use Google Earth VR to understand their place in the world and demographics and geography and that sort of thing. We've had neurophysiology class come in and do a session on Tilt Brush just to have them observe and figure out how their perception of depth and their surroundings and sound and sight, how their brains are being activated by VR in a way that you can't do anywhere other way than in VR, right? You can put up a slideshow and talk about when you see a color and you have this awareness and how your proprioception works and all that. That's something that's uniquely experiential in VR and it lets them understand their brain better. And so we're doing a lab sometime next semester where we're gonna be putting people in VR in a virtual cafe and feeding them jello cubes or cookies, we haven't quite decided that, and we're gonna change the environment and change the look of the food to see how that changes their perception of taste. So those are very specific VR things. And that is what gets me up in the morning. It's super exciting to work with students, work with professors. And I will tell you, and I've told this all week long to my friends in the VR community, in the VR community, we're kind of in a bubble, and we get intimidated by all these genius people that we're around all the time. And they are legitimately genius people. But there is a hunger and a huge knowledge gap. As soon as you get out of VR, there's tons of people who have not experienced VR or think it's one thing. And it's not, and all of us have the ability to go out and talk to educators, talk to business people, talk to families and kids, whatever, whatever your community happens to be about how you could use VR because they're hungry for it. They're really excited about it. The classes that came into my lab last semester uniformly, they do this thing called SOTES, which is just basically a student evaluation of the class. Having the VR section of their class was the number one thing they liked and the number one thing they thought was the most effective way for them to learn that unit. And that's amazing to me. And so I think like, you know, when we talk about VR in education, people are talking about content. I'm looking at VR in education as an actual experiential modality of having them think about whatever the teacher is getting them to think about, whether that's math or chemistry or biology or all that. So I'm just getting started, but I'm really excited about where it could lead in bringing people to VR, but also creating real value using VR as a tool to get better students and better teachers. And that's exciting. That's like a force magnifier, right? If we can get VR into that mode of education where it's a force multiplier for Whereas film strips from the 70s were a force multiplier over chalkboards. Videos and all that were even better and now we have tablets and computers and those are all force multipliers of what people can do with information. I think VR is like another force multiplier to help people engage in VR. Just, you know, because of its embodiment and how we experience VR as something that happened to us, it's just so much more compelling for a student that we're able to recall it for years. I don't have this data yet, but I'm gonna be interested to see if we can track it, that just like you can remember an experience that happened to you, and some lessons in your life might click with you, but most of our schooling we don't remember, right? I'm gonna be interested to see if in a few years, three, four, five years in the future, if students will be able to recall the lessons they learned in VR because it was so experiential. And that will be interesting. That will be an interesting little thing. So yeah, that's what I'm working on. And the other side project, which is if there's anybody out there that listens to this is thinking about this. I'm trying to figure out a way of allowing researchers to publish VR content as primary research documents, curate peer review and publish journals and archive them in libraries so they can be referenced so that VR content can be used in research by other researchers. That hasn't been done before, and I'm trying to figure out the right mode to do that so that it can be archived and indexed and preserved and shared and reviewed and published. And I think that could really open the floodgates for researchers who are working in VR or working in any subject area using VR as a medium to share knowledge, whereas, you know, there's already a practice for video and pictures and text. I think 3D has to be in there, right? So we'll see if that goes anywhere, but that's something I'm also very interested in.
[00:50:05.641] Kent Bye: Yeah, the WebXR spec is going to be finalized here within the next number of months, maybe before the end of the year or early in the next year. So I feel like that the open standard of WebXR would be a great way to be able to share experiences because there is a certain element of research being done with certain experiences that were created. and then you move on and then the experiences are in Unity and then Unity gets out. So to have like an open standard of archivability. For me, I would love for people to either create emulators or to take the early experiences of experiences that were in Oculus Share and to be able to make them available. I would love to go through all those now that I have time. I'm curious to see going through the global game jam, lots of experiences that people were creating and kind of putting out these executables. The content's out there. I'd love to find maybe if there's a way to port that into WebVR and create this archive. The time to do that is now. The time not to do that is like 10 years from now when all the technology stacks come to the point where there's no way to run some of these old experiences. I know that last year at SVVR, there was a party that I went to. They had like a laptop with a DK1 running a lot of early experiences. There's a part of me that wants to be able to have those experiences available for people, but like you're saying, have that archivability. And the Internet Archive is obviously working on a lot of these things as well, in terms of trying to create a repository of rich media, both in the video and audio, and archiving YouTube. you know just having this huge library with lots of content and doing some stuff with emulation and doing computer programs and so actually having the early days of the computer programs also being archived so digital archive and the ephemerality of these experiences is something that gives my heart a little like the history is evaporating unless we preserve it now then it's not going to be there so It feels like a little bit of a moral responsibility for us to find out how to preserve these experiences and to find out how to share them for the long run.
[00:51:58.069] Jon Oakes: And there's definitely a hunger for that. And I think that's what I kind of stumbled into this. And I'm not a librarian yet. Maybe I will be someday. But the point is, there are systems and processes and archivists have expertise in preserving this information. But VR is so new, it's not part of the practice. So I'm trying to just get them aware of it. And I know there's smart people who work it out. Because saving stuff is hard. Saving knowledge and experiences is actually a lot more challenging than just putting it in a book. You have to be able to find it, reference it, use it properly, reference it properly. Otherwise it's not really useful. And that's true for, you know, we're sitting in the downstairs in the library and there's all these government publications. I don't know what's in them, but there's somebody there who's responsible to make sure that data is has integrity, that they're well-maintained, that they're referenceable, that if somebody comes looking for the information, somebody knows where it is. That's what librarians do, in part, and they do research and preservation. So, like, what you're saying is true. There is a hunger for that, but there actually needs to be a discipline and a practice and resources applied to actively preserving, saving, and using that information as data that can be researched and referenced or The entropy of information in the wild is pretty quick. It goes away pretty fast, as we've seen. Oculus Share was a great resource. The Game Jam was a great resource. Oculus Share was down overnight without warning. And so a lot of that information is gone. All the metadata, the reviews, the comments that people were making about everybody's stuff. I don't know if it's on a server somewhere at Oculus. Hopefully it is, and someday somebody will bring it back out, because that was a great resource of the early days of VR. But I still think even now on stores, on independent projects and videos and 360 stuff that people are doing, even though it's not commercially successful, I still think it has a place in history, can be referenced, is relevant to the future generations are going to want to look at it. Just like we look with fascination on old, you know, 150 year old photographs, trying to figure out what their life was like. Right. And those photographs weren't necessarily special photographs, old family photos, but people like, wow, look how they dress. Look what they were carrying. Look how they held themselves. Look how they were physically kind of look different than us back then. And that's just time, you know, everything becomes interesting in time. So if we can capture these virtual experiences now, even 10, 15 years from now, VR is going to be so different. But it's going to be fascinating to understand how the experiences that we're creating today and the things that we're doing today and the things we're talking about will impact the future. But that can only happen if we save it and only happen if we save it in a way that people can reference it and be sure that it's accurate. especially in the age where digital manipulation and obfuscation is so common, you know. So I feel like that's kind of my crusade. My job is going to be promoting these students to get technically savvy with the tools of the trade, but my crusade is going to be like saving this history for future generations so that we can know where we come from and know where we're going.
[00:54:52.793] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality might be, and what it might be able to enable?
[00:55:01.221] Jon Oakes: Kent, I've listened to your podcast for so many years, and I've got to say, this is like a dream come true. I've always wanted, I was like, someday, Kent Byes is going to ask me about the ultimate destiny. I've thought about this question so much. And it changes. It's changed. I haven't had the same answer over time. So thank you for this moment. I think the ultimate destiny of VR, there's a word for it. It's not a common word, but you know what it is, but it's apotheosis. It's the idea of human beings extending themselves to almost godlike potential. And what we have today in VR is maybe the first beginnings of that, because we can control our environment. And I just look at the long-term trend of people interacting with information and that gap closing. You even go down to cave paintings and people trying to express themselves. through art and painting and drawing and words and videos and all that. And we're converging on this point where we're more and more in touch with being able to create from our minds and our will and our bodies to exist outside of the physical realms that we inhabit. And I feel like VR could get us there. VR could be that bridge to the singularity, to something other than Transhumanism and and really enabling us to interact with the world around us through the expression of our will and our consciousness rather than our material needs and I think you get down to that point you're kind of almost to the bridge of a supernatural being of Potential and it's not gonna happen with an oculus rift, right? That's just like the very first step That's like the spark of the fire But I think that's where we're going and I feel like it doesn't have to do with technology because that could be brain-computer interface type stuff it could be Nanotechnology can be something in the future, but VR is kind of just another step in our journey of us becoming more and more in control of our environment, our personal environment, our consciousness, and how we interact with it. And I do believe that. As crazy as that might sound to some people, but I do actually think that's going to happen. And I feel like that's why it's really important for us to get it right out of the gate, because these small moves that we're making now are going to have huge Impacts on the the future vectors that we go off on to technologically and culturally. It's not a sure thing that it's a Protopia, it's not a sure thing that we make the right decisions that we thread the needle of of even survival And I think like VR could play a role in that because it'll allow us to communicate in ways and do things that we couldn't otherwise do and so it's really important to me that we think about it now and carefully as this is something that's going to matter to humanity even our own little corner of the world if we're working on a little game or a little app or Even if you're a multi-billion dollar company working on a social platform that it matters. It matters to human existence and to the quality of life of the future of humanity that you get it right. So don't screw it up. Think about it. Think carefully because you're giving godlike powers to cavemen. So be sure that you're doing it the right way and that they're ready and that they're empowered and that everybody's going to be treated well. Otherwise it could turn horrible really fast and I would hate for that to happen.
[00:57:59.362] Kent Bye: Wow, amazing. Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the immersive community?
[00:58:05.400] Jon Oakes: The VR community, you know, I'm past middle age now, the VR community is the best community of people and dreamers and thinkers that I've ever come across. Even through the early days of the web and the internet, I love those people too, because those were my early days of career, I had a good time. I've never seen a group of people passionate about expressing themselves, the future, each other, the altruism that you find in VR, the community is unlike any other. That gives me tremendous hope and energy to keep pursuing it even though there's there's also some some challenges and the business side and the social side but I think like the VR community is Just full of lovely people and and you know, you know this you talk to so many of them I mean most people are just so interesting and so passionate about what they're doing that it's I It's it's very energizing and motivating and makes me want to be better. You know, I hear your podcast I hear these people doing amazing things and it's motivating to make me want to do better for them and for everybody who doesn't know yet So I want to give a shout out because it's been like a homecoming week for all my friends that thank you for your inspiration and yours can and everybody else's because it is a fun part of the world to be in
[00:59:21.016] Kent Bye: Awesome. Yeah, well with that I think that wraps up my Oculus Connect 6 coverage and thank you so much for all the work that you've been doing over the years being such a central part of the virtual reality community here in Silicon Valley and San Jose and I trust that the visions that you have you're gonna have new life to be able to continue that community service and with the support of a whole public institution and the government and I'm excited to see where your dreams of the future with virtuality takes us with these cooperations with the library and working with students here. So thank you.
[00:59:52.651] Jon Oakes: Thank you. It's been fun. Thanks for coming. You gave a great talk, and I hope we can do it again next year maybe at Oculus Connect 7 or whatever it might be. So thanks.