In June, I wrote a story mentioning when, immersing myself in VR, I came across AltspaceVR. I described some of the activities I had participated in and my level of excitement for this platform. Last week, the company announced it was going to close. So much for a dynamic market.
As a user, I didn’t see it coming. There were plenty of events in the agenda, and the company seemed to be always coming up with new concepts. Even after the announcement, I have participated in a dress up event — well, not as if I had signed up for that, but started seeing everybody with strange disguises, and realized there was a new option close to the menu that allowed me to choose new accessories. Here’s the result.
Among the reasons mentioned throughout the press regarding the closure was the low volume of traffic to the website — a mere 35.000 active monthly users. But for me part of the charm was being part of something that was still a bit obscure, being improved and work-in-progress. In fact, more than once, when initiating my session I got the chance interact with avatars from the company — the receptionist, that I remember giving me guidance in my first steps in the social network was from the company- Sometimes also on the Campfire (the main place where avatars hang out) there where elements of the team chatting and helping out the users with some of the features.
In one of the sessions of the Women in Tech VR meetup that occurred at the social network (yes a meetup about VR in VR, can’t be more meta than that), in which the guest speaker was Jolanda Tromp - a consultant in of the industry that has seen the progresses and setbacks of VR since the 90s — we were around 7 or 8 people, which created an atmosphere of intimacy difficult to replicate in tech conferences and even some (crowded) meetups. Since we were a few we got to ask all the questions we wanted and then some more.
More than once I have read about how Altspace reminds people about the 80s/90s when bulletin boards and social networks like IRC allowed for real social exploration and meeting with strangers, in a way that facebook — which pretty much anchors on your known network doesn’t do. I completely agree. Although you can schedule to enter the network with people you know, it’s power lay— at least for me — in playing card games or singing-along with complete strangers.
Another point that I was commenting with a friend of mine I have invited to try the VR social network using my headset after dinner (I know, conducive to indigestion), was how facebook has become a passive social network - it is full of people you know, and with whom you do stuff on other occasions, but with whom you can have there only passive behaviors — liking or tagging. AltspaceVR really allows you to do stuff together: singing, playing, painting — and that feels more like what real friends do, together. Actually, “be there, together” is the motto of the network.
I don’t like to see this one go. From all the apps that I have tried on GearVR this was the one that prompted me to put the headset more often, and at the time being I am left with no other VR app that elicits the same kind of enthusiasm.
Lisa, the creator of the Women in VR meetup, tweeted that they will continue in a “new VR home the metaverse”. I do hope that the other players in the metaverse benefit from the learnings of what went well and what went wrong with the pioneering Altspace and that we — the users- can have a strong contender to its place in the future.
In the meantime, there is nothing like seeing it for yourself and you can still do it. You can even participate in the farewell party scheduled for the 4th of August 2017.
And for the ones that will miss it, here’s the starting screen.