missed-call
Victoria Mapplebeck has been a storyteller for more than 30 years across different platforms, genres, and technologies. She’s a self-shooting director who shifted to smartphone filmmaking, & more recently immersive 360 video & immersive sound. We talked about these projects that have shown at the IDFA DocLab over the years:

This was recorded on Friday, December 3, 2021 as a part of a collaboration with IDFA’s DocLab to celebrate their 15th year anniversary.

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Music: Fatality

anagram
May-Abdalla-Amy-Rose
May Abdalla & Amy Rose are co-founders of Anagram, which has been exploring ways of telling non-fiction stories experientially using technology. There some of my favorite creators in this space, and they also think very deeply about the medium. We talk about their journey into this space and some of their highlights over the past 6+ years.

This conversation was recorded on Friday, December 3, 2021 as a part of a collaboration with IDFA’s DocLab to celebrate their 15th year anniversary.

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Music: Fatality

unresolved-installation
Tamara-Shogaolu2
Tamara Shogaolu is an interdisciplinary artist & director who works in film and as a creative technologist that mixes analog with digital including VR, AR, and mixed media forms. We discussed these following immersive projects that she has had at DocLab, and her journey into immersive storytelling and AR installations.

This was recorded on Monday, November 22, 2021 as a part of a collaboration with IDFA’s DocLab to celebrate their 15th year anniversary.

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Music: Fatality

tired-nigerian-artist
Rahima-Gambo2jpgRahima Gambo is a multimedia journalist based between Abuja, Nigeria & London, UK, and presented “A Rest Guide for a Tired Nigerian Artist,” which is a both a podcast series, series of book, and an immersive experience that was presented at DocLab 2021. Her previous experience of Tatsuniya was presented at DocLab 2017.

This was recorded on Monday, November 22, 2021 as a part of a collaboration with IDFA’s DocLab to celebrate their 15th year anniversary.

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Music: Fatality

famous-deaths

Polymorpf is small design collective & studio based in Holland that creates of all kinds of different immersive experiences that usually revolving around the senses and the human body. I spoke with Polymorf founder Marcel van Brakel as well as Mark Meeuwenoord, who has worked with Polymorph since 2014 doing a lot of sound design and music composition. Their 2015 DocLab piece of Famous Deaths allows you to “immerse yourself in a fragrance documentary” of the what celebrities might have been smelling when they died.

This was recorded on Monday, November 22, 2021 as a part of a collaboration with IDFA’s DocLab to celebrate their 15th year anniversary.

If you’d like to support the Voices of VR podcast, then consider becoming a member at “>Patron.com/voicesofvr.
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Music: Fatality

15-years-doclab
casper-connen
The IDFA DocLab is celebrating it’s 15th year anniversary, and I collaborated with DocLab to produce a series of a dozen interviews reflecting on the evolution of immersive storytelling and interactive documentaries since 2007. I’m kicking off the series with an interview with DocLab founder Caspar Sonnen, who takes us back to the very beginning of featuring web-based, digital projects, then onto theatrical screenings of interactive pieces, and now full-on exhibitions, immersive performances, and interactive documentaries.

This conversation was recorded on Friday, December 3, 2021

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Music: Fatality

xrsi

I caught up with the XR Safety Initiative CEO & Founder Kavya Pearlman as well as Kristina Podnar, who is an independent Digital Policy Consultant, XRSI’s Global Digital Policy Advisor, & the chair of XRSI’s Metaverse Reality Check. We talked about the landscape of tech policy issues including child safety in VR and what Antony Vitillo has called “the kids issue” within VR with an influx of children less than 13 years old after Christmas. We also talk about Privacy, and the overall tech landscape, and do a recap their recent XR Safety week.

XRSI’s core mission is to “inspire and catalyze the safe use of extended reality (XR).” XRSI are spread across so many different contextual domains including consumer awareness campaigns like the XR Safety week, the Cyber XR Coalition advocating for Diversity & Inclusion in the XR industry, XR Data Classification roundtables, publishing a XR Privacy Framework, as well as the Child Safety Initiative, their new Metaverse Reality Check as an oversight board for the Metaverse, the Medical XR Advisory Council, and an immersive journalism platform with Ready Hacker One. On top of all of that, they say that they’re also advising governments and legislators on XR policy.

XRSI also has a wide range of positions and strategies that can also be confusing to know how to classify them within the broader tech policy ecosystem. Most of the time XRSI sounds like a consumer advocacy organization about issues on child safety, privacy, or cybersecurity. But then other times Pearlman will advocate for more experimental blockchain strategies using Decentralized Autonomous Organizations for taking collective actions on privacy issues. Or then other times they will emphasize prioritizing innovation or emphasizing uniform approaches to legislation, which could amount to a more business-friendly position depending on the specifics of the proposal.

Podnar mentioned that she and XRSI were working with the Uniform Commercial Code and Emerging Technologies Committee and the American Law Institute on policies around blockchain ownership of virtual goods, and Pearlman has said on Twitter that XRSI is working with the Uniform Law Commission and the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law to help close the gap in regulation for virtual worlds.

(Update: January 7, 2022) Perlman clarified the scope of their work by saying, “Uniform Commercial Code and Emerging Technologies: The American Law Institute and the Uniform Law Commission joint committee is advised via recommending amendments and revisions to the Uniform Commercial Code with a view to accommodate emerging technological developments such as digital currency and virtual goods. XRSI contributions are specifically focused on commerce in the Metaverse and the legal impact of emerging technologies such as Non-Fungible Tokens(NFT) and cryptocurrencies. New laws are expected to be made public by Fall 2022.”

Broadly speaking each of these organizations are aspiring to create a uniform approach by creating model laws that could be potentially adopted by state legislators in order to simplify the regulatory landscape.

In looking more deeply into one of the Uniform Law Commission’s previous proposals around privacy called the Uniform Personal Data Protection Act (UPDPA) after this interview, I found that the UPDPA was widely panned by privacy advocates. I’m not convinced that uniformity of laws is always the best design goal, especially if it is prioritizing business’ needs over consumer protection as appears to be the case for Uniform Law Commission’s UPDPA.

(Update: January 7, 2022) The scope of XRSI’s collaboration with the Uniform Law Commission and the American Law Institute appears to be limited to advising amendments and revisions to the Uniform Commercial Code and Emerging Technologies’ joint committee on policies around virtual goods, digital currencies, cryptocurrencies, and NFTs. Drafts of these proposals will be made available in the Fall of 2022, which is when the full scope of this effort can be evaluated through the lens of consumer advocacy verses the interests of businesses. Hopefully XRSI’s feedback will help tip the scales towards legislation that is able to add additional protections for consumers.

All of these discussions are also happening within the context of a technology pacing gap & Collingridge Dilemma where technology is advancing far faster than tech policy can keep up with understanding it or regulating it. There is no one consumer advocacy group, trade organization, company, or legislative body has really fully figured out a comprehensive strategy for how close this technology pacing gap or to find the perfect point of equilibrium point within the Collingridge Dilemma that balances technological unpredictability for innovation with the legislative desire to prevent harms without inadvertently stifling innovation.

So it is within this broader context where XRSI’s consumer awareness campaigns like XR Safety Week are very much a needed part of the larger process of informing the public, XR developers, lawmakers, and businesses about some of the biggest harms from immersive technologies.

XRSI passed along some additional show notes and reference links to some of the other frameworks and specific policy issues:

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Music: Fatality

space-explorers-iss-experience

Felix & Paul Studios just released Episode #3 of their Space Explorers: ISS Experience, which features some absolutely stunning & breathtaking shots captured outside of the International Space Station. They gave a sneak peak of some of this footage at the end of Meta’s Connect 2021, and some of those shots are included in Episode #3 titled “Unity,” and there will be more space walk footage included within Episode #4 launching later in 2022. In October, they also released a 7-minute montage of clips called Home Planet shot from the ISS Cupola Observation Module of the ISS view of the Earth. So in total there’s over 100 minutes of really compelling documentary footage that gives a visceral sense of what life on the ISS is like through the stories and phenomenological experiences shared by astronauts.

felix-and-paul
Felix Lajeunesse & Paul Raphaël won a 2021 Emmy for Outstanding Interactive Program for the first two episodes of Space Explorers: ISS Experience, and I had a chance to speak to them after the premiere of the 2nd episode at SXSW in March 2021. This series represents a culmination of everything they’ve learned both technically and the perspective of immersive storytelling as it’s some of the most compelling and engaging 360 video content that I’ve seen so far. We talked about building trust with NASA over many years, how they had to plan out story arcs over 6-month missions, the technical challenges of shooting 360 VR video in space, and the themes of diversity as they shot the first-ever, all-woman space walk.

Felix & Paul have also been experimenting with taking the 360-degree panoramic video shot in Space and creating television, IMAX, dome, and large-scale, location-based entertainment experiences — specifically The Infinite, which just recently opened up in Houston, Texas on December 20th.

The Space Explorers: ISS Experience is one of the more amazing 360 videos produced up to this point, and releasing a new episode just in time as VR gets a new batch of users from the holiday season.

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Music: Fatality

jadu-jetpacks-hoverboards

asad-j-malik
Asad J. Malik is an AR artist who spent a lot time making work for the HoloLens on the film festival circuit, and then started a AR Hologram company named Jadu creating volumetric captures of celebrities and musicians using the high-end Microsoft Mixed Reality Capture Studio at Metastage. He was losing some of his enthusiasm after doing 30-40 hologram projects and navigating egos the bureaucratic dynamics of working with musicians, and then he started experimenting with cryptocurrencies and NFTs. He was also searching for alternative business models beyond advertising or high-end, holograms as a service, and had aspirations for creating a world-scale, AR game and product that allowed him to experiment more with tapping into the affordances of AR beyond passively watching volumetric performances from famous people.

On September 16th, Jadu released 1,111 jetpack NFT wearables that earned them over $400,000 in initial sales and over $450,000 in secondary market commissions over the first couple of months with their 5% commission rate. On December 12th, Jadu released 6,666 NFT Hoverboards earning over $4.3 million dollars. These NFT wearables will be used within the context of their AR application that will allow users to connect one of the supported 3D NFT avatar collections, and then puppeteer these avatars from a third-person POV in an AR app as they fly around on their jetpacks and hoverboards. They’re aiming to create an entire “Mirrorverse” game and platform with a scavenger hunt of geocached NFTs that are easier to find and discover if you already own a jetpack or hoverboard.

Jadu was able to leverage the success of their jetpacks to raise a seed round of venture capital being announced today [Update: here’s Jadu’s announcement of a $7M seed round] to more fully make the pivot into exploring the “web3” potentials of shared ownership and decentralized finance that go beyond the existing web 2.0 business models. I share some of Malik’s optimism in the long-term potential of web3 to create new models of economic exchange while also simultaneously agreeing with some critics of the web3 branding as well as some of the larger ecological concerns around Proof of Work. Ada Rose Cannon is the co-chair of the W3C Immersive Web Groups, and I agree with aspects of her incisive criticism about the web3 branding when she says, “I get so pissed off every time I see Web 3.0, NFT assholes have co-opted the branding of the Web to imply so many untrue things about their cryptoshit tech and set themselves up as the successor to the Web platform all in a single move.”

Malik concurs that there are plenty of fair criticisms in this sentiment as the web3 term is often completely disconnected from the infrastructure aspirations of the W3C and the current open web. There’s still lots of gaps for how web3 would replace the existing web2 world wide web, which results in many hyperbolic statements that are still largely aspirational. Jadu’s application won’t be using any WebXR technologies, and will be focused on creating their Mirrorverse within the context of a 2D native phone application starting on iOS. So I am unclear as to what exactly web3 means just as the larger crypto and XR community has been overusing the buzz word of the “metaverse” to describe a wide range of 3D virtual world projects to 2D *.jpg NFT collections. Malik feels that web3 still describes the aspirations and intentions for what Jadu is aiming to create with their Mirrorverse in terms of creating an ecosystem of shared ownership where there’s 95% of the value being exchanged and owned by the community maintains while Jadu takes a 5% cut. This is a vast shift from the existing value exchange on the existing web that’s fueled by a lot of surveillance capitalism and advertising.

I’m sympathetic to the need and desire to experiment with new models that move beyond surveillance capitalism, and as Joseph Poon told me at the Decentralized Web Summit 2018 that it is hard to learn about new models of value exchange when looking at playing poker games with fake money. Because it’s difficult to simulate how the incentive structures will pragmatically play out in reality, then crypto projects have to “do it live” in order to really find out how people exchange value with each other. Is this is what is happening with NFTs? Or are they all just scams or multi-level marketing, pyramid schemes?

I suspect that the truth is probably somewhere in the middle where there are plenty of grifters and scams that you need to look out for, but there’s also plenty of earnest artists and companies experimenting with new models of decentralized economic exchange in the spirit of moving towards more equitable models platform cooperativism and decentralized autonomous organizations. Will Proof of Stake approaches address some of the the ecological concerns? Or is this the type of centralization scope creep of decentralized finance that Malik says that Bitcoin maximalists have been warning about?

If Jadu moves towards creating a DAO, then it won’t be making decisions about the lore, mythology, and underlying game mechanics of their Mirrorverse. Some of their challenges will be to find out to balance the new user experience of folks who don’t own one of their NFT wearables that start at a floor of 3.7 Ethereum (~$13645.74) for one of the 1,111 Jetpacks or a floor of 0.45 Etherum ($1659.62) for one of the 6,666 Hoverboards. They want to create a dynamic where one of the owners of their NFTs will gain some advantages within their game world and platform, but not to the degree that will alienate new users who don’t own any jetpacks or hoverboards.

Malik acknowledges the dynamics of compounding gains for crypto early adopters, and strives to find ways to create a compelling experience for users beyond their core early adopters and whales who are buying and selling their NFTs to create a recurring revenue stream that allows them to build out their independently driven AR platform. In order to compete with the AR platforms of Snapchat, Instagram, or TikTok, then it may turn out that jetpack and hoverboard NFTs will end up bootstrapping more grassroots innovation, shared ownership, and the gamification of AR by Jadu. Or we may be in a giant NFT bubble that bursts at any moment. Either way, it’ll be interesting to see where Jadu takes the future of their Mirrorverse and what type of interoperability they implement for how other avatars could use their object-oriented wearables across other cryptocurrency-based metaverse platforms like Decentraland, Somnium Space, Cryptovoxels, or The Sandbox.

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Music: Fatality

recroom

cameron-brown
On March 23, 2021, Rec Room announced that they raised $100M with a valuation of $1.25 billion, which makes them the first VR software company to achieve “unicorn” status. Rec Room was launched for the Vive on June 1, 2016 after 99 days of development, and they’ve continued to rapidly iterate and develop it over the years with a release cadence ranging from a weekly to every other week for five and half years now. They’re the most cross-platform VR application being on Oculus Quest, PCVR on Steam and Oculus Home, PSVR for PS4 as well as a 2D version for PS4 (with a PS5 release coming soon), XBox, iOS, as well as Android.

I had a chance to catch up with one of the co-founders of Rec Room & Chief Creative Officer Cameron Brown on October 7th after the third annual Rec Con community conference. I wanted to get more context on the origin story of Rec Room, which was started by six people who all worked on creating augmented reality experiences for the Microsoft HoloLens — including Nick Fajt, Cameron Brown, Dan Kroymann, Bilal Orhan, Josh Wehrly, and John Bevis. I also wanted to get an oral history of the early days and evolution of their social VR platform, and so we cover some of the big turning points in the evolution of the user-generated platform, their in-game economy, and focus on creating opportunities for social VR interactions that’s embedded into everything that they create. There’s a lot of social VR and user interface innovations they’ve pioneered we well as helped to define many of the design paradigms that will no doubt persist into the evolution of the metaverse.

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Music: Fatality