Rene – Hi! Welcome to Meta Minutes, your bite-sized pieces of the metaverse. My name is Rene from Valorem Reply and as you can see, we are today inside of the metaverse to talk about a metaverse topic. If you wonder what is that, well, this is our custom Altspace VR world called Reply Solo world. You have to know, at Reply, we have physical spaces, so called social gathering spaces, in our offices. Since we're all in the metaverse these days, we had to replicate something like this inside of the metaverse. This is where we are today. Anyhow this is not what this show is all about. It's all about our fantastic guests, like Saskia, we have here. Today we are going to talk about Global XR and metaverse community and I'm more than honored to welcome Saskia to our show. Welcome Saskia, how are you today?

Saskia - Hi Rene. I'm great, thank you so much for having me. I'm honored to be here!

Rene – Awesome! Well thanks so much for taking the time out of your busy day. So let's start actually with introducing yourself. So your name is Saskia Groenewegen and maybe you can tell us a little bit about yourself and your background as it relates to 3D computer graphics, metaverse and all the related things.

Saskia - I can let me try. So hi, i'm Saskia. I live in the Netherlands. I'm from Germany. I work at a company called Ordina, where I'm the Tech lead for everything VR, AR, XR. My background, well I studied computer science, you know like many of us do and I did my thesis at the at the research institute and then did the early research in VR. It was like 20years ago and I thought it was like the coolest thing ever. So I did another master in that area. That's how I got started in VR like first as like a scientist basically doing some research and then later as a software developer. And a funny story actually about years ago, I was working as a researcher in Utrecht university and we were working at a research project called metaverse and it was about combining real and virtual world. So that's a bit of my background.

Rene – Awesome! Well, that's fantastic. Let's dive into our today's topic and, of course, you just told us you're working in computer graphics since many years, you actually have a educational background there, so, tell us a little bit about the metaverse, how the term was used before it was cool. So let's start with a simple but also complex question, what is the metaverse for you and where do you see its potential?

Saskia – Yeah, that's such a wide question. Of course, the metaverse, as you know, I think already told, comes from a science fiction book. It's from Snow Crush. I would say it's anything that got such a broad term anything that ties like the real world to kind of a digital representation of that world and that includes anything from what like we're doing here with the social virtual environment, representation of the real world up to digital twins, where you actually make a copy of a real world system and all of that includes the metaverse. I think the potential is very big like personally what I work on at work is building training environments in virtual reality where you can replicate like environments that are really difficult to reach, are really expensive or really dangerous, so people can train in those virtual environments or to help people during their work with headsets like a HoloLens where you can actually like add additional information to the real world. I see a lot of potential in those areas.

Rene – Yeah, I fully agree, I mean like you said, right, it's currently such a kind of fuzzy topic like it's like anything and nothing at the moment and like you said, like a lot of folks it has different meanings and I fully agree what you said like, I also see lots of potential also for this kind of real-world materials, right, where we embed this kind of physical reality and make this all support and we don't just have these pure virtual worlds which are great too right like we can chat immersive-ly today without a video call, this is fantastic. I think there's a lot of potential for connecting the real world.

Saskia - It's so much more personal also to talk to you as an avatar than on a video call, right?

Rene - That's awesome and what I also always say is like in these kind of meetings or like we use that internally also for business meetings, immersive business meetings as I call it, I memorize much more from these meetings, right? Fully immersed, like you know, you're basically as you can see right we see each other as 3D although as an avatar, I can also hear your voice in 3D with spatial sound and then also the other aspect is you're fully focused right there's no outside distraction really.

Saskia – Exactly! I cannot check my phone now or like look at my other screens and all of that, right?

Rene – Right. let's talk about another great project. You're involved with the Global XR community and I know, together with Alexander Meijers and Sjoukje, you're organizing the global XR event series and also actually larger a conference like the global XR conference, right? Pease tell us a little bit about the work you're doing there with the with the series but also in one of the globe links or meetups if you will, in Altspace. You had these fun quizzes, which was amazing, were so much fun. So yeah, tell us a little bit about the whole global XR community effort and what you guys are doing there and then or maybe the next events?

Saskia – Yeah, so the whole globe like, I think, started as a local user group actually, the next reality user group. It was a Dutch user group for for HoloLens and mixed reality which was started by Sjoukje and Alexander and then shortly before the pandemic they asked me to join. I was really happy to do, then, of course, you know everything. Being online from that point onwards we decided to shift it from a local thing to a global thing and it became the global XR community and what we do is we organize talks once a month where we invite the speaker to your talk. You have been a guest with that and then basically we saw that there were so many amazing topics and so many amazing speakers that didn't fit in that monthly format anymore. So we also organized a yearly conference, the global XR conference which was 50 speakers two years ago and we did like a 24-hour live stream and then last year we did three days with 70 speakers. It was an amazing experience and everything all of that is still on YouTube, like, we recorded all the talks all on our YouTube channel Global XR community if you want to watch them and yeah so we keep going and the quiz thing well recently we thought, yeah we're doing all the talks but maybe it would be nice to do something a bit more interactive with the whole community. So we thought why not do like a fun quiz show inside of Altspace VR right and you were participating in that one as well which was like a game show. You have to you got questions about XR and then you have to like jump to the right colored square to get your answer and yeah I thought it was that was really fun. What do you think?

Rene - Oh that was amazing. I really loved every second of it, that was so good fun and like, you know, it actually, there were also like I would say random people joining because it's an open call, right, it's not like you have an invite list and a bouncer, so it was very much open and that was actually cool. I met a few new people actually in fact that was great.

Saskia - Me too, it's really fun, yeah. I tried to make it a bit like that at the answer after every question you also get an explanation for the answer. So that also people new to VR maybe learn a bit and it was really fun yeah. So we do that like once a month usually the last Thursday of the month, and the conference is at the end of the year this time it's at the beginning of November like November 3rd and 4th, but just check out our website, get all the details.

Rene - What I also loved about the quizzes, I mean you do so much more stuff than just the questions right but I think this is really innovative because what you how you basically selected the right answer was, you had numbers on the floor and people had to stand on these numbered areas like from you know our German speaking audience might remember this fine kids show. Awesome, well, you're doing this since many years are involved with a lot of in the community but also with other conferences like in including the very much prestigious ACM Siggraph and also the VR days in the Netherlands, right you're also involved with that now. So maybe you can tell us a bit about changes and trends you actually have seen in this kind of community and conference world is there, anything particular you have seen in a community that has changed since you started with global XR and also in relation maybe to the metaverse hype since last year. What has happened, any trends you see there?

Saskia – Yeah, now let me think. So actually I started working for Siggraph actually a long time ago, already as a student like I volunteered there and it's like I thought, it's an amazing place to be. You have to see all the latest trends and now I still get to do that like organized at the VR part of it and let's see. Well I think there's definitely a shift to I would say cheaper headsets. You know, it used to be, you can only have like a live pro and above index and to get like really high quality material but recently there is a lot happening with remote rendering, right, so which is which enables those the cheaper hats, it's like we are also wearing now to have way more high quality content. So I see a lot of happening with remote rendering. Of course in general the sale of the oculus, I think is a big shift. I think there's never been so many headsets sold as the oculus quest 2, right? There's a huge uptake and then consumer buying this headset which I hope leads to more people just being familiar with the technology and then also using it maybe for other things, in gaming. So remote rendering oculus, what else? I do see a lot more location-based events like cultural events like theatre where they are like, you know, actors that are actually like in a in a mocap suit sometimes or just in a headset and that's a kind of interact with the people, that come to that performance. I see way more of that which is really interesting and so cool. I think these are the main trends that I see. I was wondering maybe anything that you have seen that I have now completely overlooked. The digital twins is another really big trend I would say.

Rene – Yes, definitely. And I fully agree what you said. We see a lot of cultural things also moving into virtual worlds which is great to have it with a larger audience and you know I think what is really great, again similar to real world metaverse topic is this kind of hybrid stuff, right, where we can best of both worlds basically and I think this is a trend we're going to see much more and like you said digital twins is, of course, a big part of it because it's replica of a real world entity whatever the digital twin is right, I mean, we are in fact also kind of like we're talking, right now as avatars right? We're all the digital twins of our real-self kind of right? To some degree, I mean at some point once you add variables and other sensory elements you can of course enhance your digital between your digital human counterpart but that also raises a lot of ethical responsible questions like what is happening there, I think, this in general also maybe another a quick last questions like in terms of Altspace VR events you hosted because you hosted so many, there any kind of things where you had to enforce a strong policy like because there were people harassing other folks or just not behaving well and what is your approach?

Saskia – Unfortunately, I think that's a problem in all online spaces, right so that happened in Auckland, in any kind of virtual world or anywhere on the internet you have roles and harassment and unfortunately we have some tools to kick people out of the space but yeah that still happens and you can see a company struggling with that as well. I think it's really important that if you create such an interesting virtual environment that you think about those things before actually building the world and you see a lot of companies that are kind of reactive. Like they blow the world they see what happens and then they try to change it but I think at this point in time we have so much experience from, you know, online games and everything that you can predict what's going to happen and maybe build your world in such a way that you can prevent that from the start.

Rene - I think that would be great. And that's good advice and we probably also need virtual bouncers right, like you know just in the real world when you go to a club or whatever. Like a person that is at the door and it's not leaving anyone in. Maybe we need virtual bouncers at virtual events. Sadly but I guess, at the moment, humans are humans, right? And especially when they can hide behind in an anonymous avatar, they will behave not well and so we got to act for this right?

Saskia - Yeah exactly. It's a difficult balance sometimes like how do you balance the privacy of people with those kinds of issues? Yeah and I’m really excited to see where this is going to go in the future.

Rene - Right and you know the fantastic part is we can all be part of the whole story and we can help to shape it in a safe and responsible way right this is the main thing.

Saskia - Exactly and speaking of this, I think it's also, that's one reason why it's really important like a diverse group of people working in those things right because, different people have such different experiences in virtual worlds for example and it's really important to include all of those people to get all of those experiences.

Rene - Exactly if it's just folks like us right, computer scientists, you have a certain levels, right, but you have all the social effects that we sometimes might miss, like you know, just like you said, I mean the whole topic of diversity is so important to get the best outcome for everyone because like everyone gives their input right and not just a few selected people and so yeah I'm big advocate of that and I'm glad you say that well. I think we could talk for many more hours but we're already at the end of the show. Thank you so much for joining us today. That was fantastic. Let's try to do a high five here real quick, if you can do this. Well friends, thank you Saskia and thank you all for joining us for yet another episodes of Meta Minutes, your bite-sized pieces of the metaverse. Well, we will talk in the next episodes about a couple of other topics, but of course, just visit our website or go to our social media channels or our YouTube channel where you should actually subscribe to watch all the previous episodes and to get notified when the next episodes are about to happen. And again, thank you so much for joining us today here inside our metaverse world and big thanks again to Saskia and all of you for joining and listening in. I hope that was worthwhile. I loved the conversation, that was fantastic. Until then see you next time. See you in the metaverse. Bye-bye!