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Dec 13, 2017

Over the next two episodes, the Windows Insider podcast explores all things mixed reality. In part 1, we chat with the Hololens team about design elements in Windows Mixed Reality and how developers can get started creating immersive experiences. We also hear how virtual reality enhances social life and creates community with people from all over the world. Find out more about Windows Mixed Reality here:


Episode transcript

ALEX KIPMAN (from video):  Now we're standing together at the threshold of the next revolution of computing.  Now, the thing that excites me about this revolution is that computers will empower us to renegotiate our very contract with reality, giving us the capability to transcend time, space, and devices

In this revolution we will immerse ourselves in virtual worlds of our choosing, and we'll be able to accomplish impossible things.  And we'll be able to do all of this while creating lasting memories with the people that we love

Our very sense of reality is set to be transformed as we enter this new era of computing, the era of mixed reality

JASON HOWARD:  That's Alex Kipman, Technical Fellow here at Microsoft, delivering the keynote at a recent event where he unveiled the company's vision for mixed reality

And as you can tell from that clip, his vision is a bold one.  Microsoft's plan for mixed reality is nothing short of transforming the way people interact with the physical and digital worlds

But let's back up for a second.  What is mixed reality, and what will it enable us to do?

Welcome to the Windows Insider Podcast where we explore all things Windows, the Insider community, and beyond

I'm your host, Jason Howard.

You're listening to Episode 10, the first of a two-part series where we'll explore mixed reality

Microsoft has been a pioneer in mixed reality, also known as MR, starting with the groundbreaking launch of HoloLens in 2015.  The HoloLens is the world's first untethered holographic computer that enables people to have experiences that blend both the physical and digital worlds

To learn about recent developments in MR I've invited a couple experts from the HoloLens team to the podcast today

BECKY HARUYAMA:  My name is Becky Haruyama, and I am a Principal Designer for the Windows Mixed Reality Engineering Team.

And what I've been focusing on most recently is the customer experience in the physical Microsoft stores where people who are going out and looking at what is this Windows Mixed Reality, we have design and experience for them to kind of better understand why they should invest in this

KATHERINE HARRIS:  Yeah, and I'm Kat Harris.  I am also on the Windows design team, but I am a developer and I work mainly with our open source toolkits that we provide to developers to help them really dive into working with our headsets, and making very high quality, cool, new experiences and new tools for their companies or bringing their ideas to life

JASON HOWARD:  So Becky, let me ask you, what is your definition of mixed reality?

BECKY HARUYAMA:  So we are familiar with the physical world.  We live in it every day.  It's made out of atoms.  It's things that you can touch.  And then there is this digital world that is made out of pixels.  And mixed reality is the blending of those two realities together

And so while that is still really abstract, if you start thinking about augmented reality and virtual reality, those are actually under the spectrum, the umbrella term of mixed reality

So augmented reality is when you have digital artifacts in your physical world, so you can see your environment, you can move around inside of it, and there are digital artifacts that are around.  And there's different kind of fidelities of that

And then of course on the virtual reality side your environment is completely digital.

And there's not really like a hard edge line, it's more of a blending of people, places, and things.  And so you could have a fully digital person in a fully physical location or physical place.  And so it's really like Alex Kipman talks about this dial, the mixer, that kind of mixes people, places, and things between augmented reality and virtual reality.  So there is no boundary between the two, it's really a mixture of those three characteristics under the umbrella of mixed reality

JASON HOWARD:  So Kat, your work is focused on enabling developers to create mixed reality experiences.  What are some inspiring things you've seen people do with this new technology

KATHERINE HARRIS:  A lot of different things.  What's great about mixed reality is that it's kind of an open platform for a bunch of different industries to kind of jump into.  You have the medical industry, you have education, you have training people.  And it's this new exploratory like medium of giving content to people and kind of training their brains or delivering that content in a different way that they've never really experienced before

And so we're enabling developers now to create new experiences that we would have never realized ourselves.  Just being in the tech industry we're kind of in our own little bubble.  But getting to share this technology with a bunch of different people allows them to create some really cool things

I met a woman last week actually who was working in robotics, and she was using the HoloLens to control multiple robots and like control where it was going.  And I was asking her, like, oh, that's so amazing.

She's like, yeah, what would be really cool eventually is to be able to have a counterpart application in immersive reality, and have the headsets where people could experience like what the robot was experiencing perhaps.  And that way you have one person controlling it with the HoloLens, and another person experiencing what the robot is experiencing


KATHERINE HARRIS:  Yeah, exactly.  I was like, oh my gosh, that's so cool, I want -- I want that application now

BECKY HARUYAMA:  Tell him about what that event was

KATHERINE HARRIS:  Oh yeah.  So last week, we had an event with women in VR.  We invited a bunch of women creators who had HoloLens out in the field in LA, New York, Paris, and had them all come in for a two-day workshop to kind of introduce them to the new headsets, as well as showcase their awesome HoloLens applications

So there was about nine or ten different applications that people were showing off.  One of them was a museum application called HoloStoria where museums could use it, and you can have 3D assets, place them around your museum, scale them up, add 2D information to also display to the user.

And you didn't need to know anything about programming to use it.  So you could give it to curators and stuff, and they could just easily go around and create their museum add-ons or extensions to their physical locations

And a couple other fun ones, there was one where you defend kittens from aliens attacking.  So that's more on the gaming side

One person was using AI to train a dragon.  Think of a Tamagotchi, but with a dragon that could interact with your physical world.  So it knew where walls were, it knew where the ground was, it could fly and burrow and avoid stuff, and you could interact with it, give it commands

We also had like art installations where you could see a stage and interact with your friends and see this art installation come to life

Muralize is a very popular application where you take your Instagram feed or any Instagram photo and put it on a wall, pin it there, and then you can actually have paints and stuff and paint the wall with the headset on, so you can see your art.  So it's helping artists create in a new way that I would have never been able to come up with

BECKY HARUYAMA:  And this whole thing was kind of identifying people out in the wild who are creating amazing things on HoloLens, and then the effort was helping them kind of port these experiences over to Windows Mixed Reality immersive headsets, just to kind of enable them to have broader reach

JASON HOWARD:  So it sounds like developers obviously they have their hands on this, they are doing great things already.  What are some of the key things that, Kat, you and your team are doing to enable developers to have a good experience in this space

KATHERINE HARRIS:  Yeah, there's a bunch of things that we're trying to do to meet developers where they are

So we have a repository on GitHub called the Holo Toolkit.  And it's a toolkit of assets and scripts that developers can use with the engine Unity.  It's a game engine to use simulations or create 3D environments.

And using those scripts and the toolkit they can easily get started with the basic foundations of how do you do spatial mapping, how would one do like hand gesture for tapping or gaze.  And so the scripts are already given to them

JASON HOWARD:  Let's talk about some of the design elements in Windows Mixed Reality.  Becky, can you tell us about the considerations you and your team had during development

BECKY HARUYAMA:  We really wanted to make sure that we had content that would be interesting to people who are gamers, people who are not gamers, men and women, different ages.  And so we had that as a goal

And then we were also looking at the Cliff House, which is our kind of, quote/unquote, "home" in mixed reality.  It's the environment that you cruise around when you're inside the headset.  And we looked at the design of the quote/unquote "architecture," and there are different spaces in the Cliff House

And so we looked at what we call these different psychological fields or what are the things that you do in these different types of rooms or these different kind of locations.  So we have a back patio.  It's really beautiful.  It's very relaxing.  You're looking out over Mt. Rainier.  You can go outside and there's birds chirping.  So the psychological field for that is relax and dream

And then we have a studio which is more your typical kind of office studio space.  And that's more for creativity and productivity

And then we have the deck which overlooks the water.  There are these floating islands.  We like to have a little bit of fantasy in with our reality.  And that one's more aspirational.  It's more like what's next for me.  I'm about to decide what I'm going to do with my life.  And so that room is learn and discover

And then we have the theatre, which is this really amazing, huge space that is where you have your games and your movies and it's more about like escaping and playing

So we kind of had that as our organizing principles for the way we wanted the demo to unfold.  We looked at what content we needed in each of those locations to kind of ensure that we would have an experience that would really resonate with a wide group of people

JASON HOWARD:  Can you tell us a little bit about the history of the Cliff House and why is that the first place you land in the Windows Mixed Reality world?

BECKY HARUYAMA:  So one of the things that I think is really interesting when we talk about mixed reality is realizing that on our desktop our 2D screen when you go to the Start Menu, like that's kind of your center of gravity, like that's how you go back to it, it's how you move around, and that is kind of kind of the paradigm that we use

So when you think about transitioning into a spatial analogy, and it's actually the thing that we're most familiar with in the world.  Like we were born and we move around in the world, and it is a spatial interface, it is a spatial environment

So when you think about what is a home, it's something that everyone can relate to, hopefully, that it is this place that is kind of central to who you are and to what you do.

And architects and space planners really leverage these constructs that we're familiar with around what situation am I going to do in this room  and in this room and in this room, and then you design kind of a place around it

So having it be a home really seemed to make the most sense, because we wanted it to be familiar, and we infused some like fantasy into it, like I mentioned before with the floating islands.  So it really is like this aspirational, amazing place that we wanted people to instantly understand how to move around within it

But it's not your normal home.  Like there are no doors, there are no windows.  You can hop up onto the roof, which is my favorite place to go


BECKY HARUYAMA:  Yeah, it's so fun.  It's got the best view

And so it just seemed to make the most sense

We weren't going to do like a forest.  Ah, I'm lost in the forest, you know, or like you're on a beach.  Well, okay, that's fine, but we wanted it to have a certain level of utility.  We wanted it to be a place that was comfortable, and we wanted it to be neutral enough in the sense so that you could personalize it in the way which you organize all the things that matter the most to you, the apps that you like the most

And it was actually inspired by a really beautiful modern house that was built in the 1950s, I believe, it was the Farnsworth House.  If you look it up online, it's this really beautiful, kind of super simple, streamlined house, had a lot of glass, really simple lines.  And the architect built it for his client to kind of support her hobbies, which were playing violin, reading poetry, and looking at nature.  And so it was this really amazing kind of inside-out space that when everyone looks at this picture, it's like, oh, I really want to live there, that's like the most amazing house.  And so that was a lot of the inspiration for the Cliff House

And we picked the external environment to be inspired by our beautiful Northwest, and that's why we have Mt. Rainer there also

JASON HOWARD:  Nice.  I actually didn't know that about the history.  That's kind of cool that it's based off of an actual house that exists

BECKY HARUYAMA:  Yeah, well, a lot of architecture is this really interesting -- you know, you look for inspiration, and then you kind of apply it to the goals that you're trying to facilitate

I mean, I think the most important thing is we wanted people to be able to identify with it, and to then make it their own.  And so that was one of our main goals

JASON HOWARD:  So to the point of personalization and making Cliff House your own, right, do either of you have your own Cliff House that you've designed and customized and -

KATHERINE HARRIS:  Oh yeah, yeah.  Becky, you go first

BECKY HARUYAMA:  Yeah, okay.  So I have spent a ton of time in the headset kind of creating my own environment.  And my favorite thing was when I put up the photos app, and put my own personal photos in, so it turned into like a slideshow.  And so I'm hanging out in there, and I'm doing my self-hosting and kind of figuring out how we were going to create the demo for the retail stores.  But then there's my family right there with me.

And then we had kind of an internal contest of who could like make the craziest Cliff House.  And some of the other designers made these amazing -- like they take the holograms and they would like make -- I don't know, there was like a hundred flamingos or monkeys, I don't remember what it was, or they'd like take the shopping bag and make it huge, or, you know, it's really fun, because there's a lot of scalability.  You can play with the scale of things in a way that you can't do in the quote/unquote "real world."  And so like playing with the holograms, and then putting your apps in the way that you want to, and like what's on the roof and -- okay, Kat, you go

KATHERINE HARRIS:  My favorite thing is to make the Netflix app as big as possible, so I have like an 80-foot screen

BECKY HARUYAMA:  Is that on the roof

KATHERINE HARRIS:  No.  So there's like the media room, right?  Well, there's a button on the side of the media room where it's just like a wooden room, but then when you hit that button, it turns into outer space.  Or like not outer space, like the stars


KATHERINE HARRIS:  And it's beautiful.  And I just like watching my new Netflix shows, and then seeing this beautiful skyline.  And then it's like Netflix but then it's all my other media as well.  I have a bunch of 360 video apps on the side, and then I have a bunch of games on the roof of the house, so I'll just pop up to the roof, and it's like 360, just all my favorite games.

And then, of course, I use my holograms to like make it my own.  So I have like a little dog hologram, a little cat hologram, just lots of pets and animals.  Since I don't own any, I can have hologram ones

JASON HOWARD:  And no mess to clean up

KATHERINE HARRIS:  And no mess to clean up.  I don't have to like feed them and stuff or forget to feed them, because that's why I don't have a pet, because I would -- they would die.  I've killed a cactus.  Never mind.  That's another story

JASON HOWARD:  If you're ready to see the Cliff House for yourself, just go to a Microsoft Store for a free demo.  You'll also be able to check out the different immersive headsets that are available now.  I've tried it, and it's a ton of fun.  Not to mention the fact that I scored Spartan the first time I played the new Halo mixed reality edition.

Another exciting development in MR is the opportunity for socializing.  This immersive technology can give you the chance to meet people from all over the world, attend live events in far off lands, and play interactive games

Here to tell us more about the social side of MR is Katie Kelly from AltSpaceVR, one of the leading social platforms for virtual reality

So AltSpaceVR provides an environment for people to meet up in virtual reality.  Why is it important to have social spaces in VR

KATIE KELLY:  I think the better question is, why is it important to have social spaces in general.  And I think in virtual reality having a place where you can hang out with other people is just a natural evolution of where we are with communication technology

So you have Skype and you have videoconferencing and you have a phone, and we've gotten really tethered to these devices where you are only communicating through speech or looking directly at somebody on a Skype call.  But you miss out on those things that we do when we're watching TV together, those natural interactions that you have when you're doing something together

So what we think is that VR is the natural evolution of communication, is that you are going to have shared experiences with each other instead of being tethered by just your voice or through eye contact on a videoconference

JASON HOWARD:  So can you describe a little more what it's like being there in virtual reality just hanging out

KATIE KELLY:  Sure.  When you go into AltSpaceVR, you don't know what you're exactly going to get, but our biggest goal is to get you to laugh, hopefully in the first five minutes

So you can come into AltSpaceVR and you will first probably pop into our campfire.  It's our communal space where there are people hanging out, and we have marshmallows and we have a forest landscape and a roaring fire, and that's where people go to hang out

And so when you go in and there's going to be somebody there, they'll probably say hi, and you'll say hi back, and then you'll realize that you are talking from inside your headset, probably in your living room, hopefully with clothes on, to a random person that might be in Norway or might be in Sweden or might be in California or somewhere in the states, and then you just start talking

And if you don't just start that conversation, we have lots of things for you to do to start to encourage those interactions.  Our main goal is to get you to meet somebody new, and to have a good time, and hopefully make a friend

And so we have games that you can play, we have dungeons and dragons, and we have chess, and we have Cards Against Humanity is our most popular, of course

JASON HOWARD:  That's a fun game

KATIE KELLY:  It's called Holograms Against Humanity in AltSpaceVR

And you can go explore different environments.  We have a full Mayan maze that will take you 20 minutes to get through, and you'll make some interesting friends along the way

We have a disc golf course, and mostly we have events.  We're really known for our events.  You can come in at any point and see a community calendar of all the events that will be happening throughout the day or the week.  And it spans the gamut from meetups to comedy shows to news broadcasts to live streams, our rocket launches.  We do a live stream of SpaceX rocket launches.  Those are some of our most popular live streams

Because we've found that people want to experience these pulse moments together with other people.  So what's a better way of doing that than putting on your headset, you're alone in your room in maybe rural Nebraska, and all of a sudden you're in a room watching something really cool with a bunch of people that could potentially be new friends

JASON HOWARD:  So as an individual, the experience, I put on my headset, and, you know, I get logged in, so to speak, right?  What do I see of other people?  Am I seeing actual images of them?  Can they upload photos of themselves?  Is it just like a representation, is it some sort of avatar

KATIE KELLY:  So right now you're an avatar.  And we have a range of different avatars that you can customize, mostly with different colors for different robot avatars, and then we have a male and a female avatar with a couple different clothing styles, different races, different hair colors.  And so that's where we are right now with our avatar system.  And so when you go into a room, you see a bunch of other avatars

But what's interesting, if you haven't tried VR, is it's really hard to explain how present you actually feel with other people.  My father has a Gear VR that I got him years ago when I first started at AltSpace so that we could experience what it was like hanging out with somebody you knew in VR.  And he's always a white avatar with red stripes, with his hands behind his back.  But after probably, I don't know, 15 minutes, I completely just associated that avatar as my father.  At one point, he switched avatars, and I was like, no, dad, you've got to back, now you're just in a different body.  You were you when you were that avatar

And we found that across the board that people really start to identify with the avatar that they are, and when I got into AltSpace and I see my friends there now, now that I have friends in VR, which is really strange to say, I recognize people based on their avatar.  I'm like, Lea, hey, how's it going, and Peroxide, how's it going, so nice to see you in your red avatar

JASON HOWARD:  So it sounds like people from around the world are participating and joining in and getting together.  Can you tell us a little bit about the people that are participating?  Do you have any information about like the diversity of users kind of around the world

KATIE KELLY:  So our events are a testing ground for us to try a lot of things to see what people are going to like in VR.  So we do a lot of things.  I have done the first yoga class in virtual reality.  I have held the first meditation meetup with our amazing previous community manager, Lisa Kotecki.  And we've just tried to supply a lot of different things to see what people like to do

And so one idea was to do meetups, and they've become really successful.  So I did an LGBT meetup, and we had a good couple hundred people show up, and we talked about what it was like being gay around the world

One guy was from South Africa talking about being gay down there.  A couple in Australia was talking about fighting for gay rights.  A man in Turkey was talking about having to prove that he was gay, because he couldn't join the military because he was gay, but they didn't believe him

And then you had a girl in rural Nebraska that was 16, and she couldn't actually say the word gay because her family could hear her, because she was still in her family's house.  So she messaged, she wrote a little text message to one of my coworkers that was in the space I was in.  You have to use your imagination a little bit, but you feel like you're in an actual space with other people

And he messaged me and said, "Hey, there's this girl here that wants to talk and tell us her experience, but she can't say the word gay.  What do we do?

And so I asked her, I said, what's something you just love to talk about?  And she said chocolate.  I said, okay, every time you want to say the word gay, say the word chocolate

She told us about the first time she ever ate chocolate, who she liked to share her chocolate with, all the different kinds of chocolate that she liked.  And then three weeks later, she came out to her family, because she felt like she had her community in VR that she saw once a week, and she didn't feel as different as she had felt before

And those stories are happening over and over again, but those kind of moments where you wouldn't be able to find your community out in your neighborhood, you can now put on a headset and potentially find it from anybody around the world

JASON HOWARD:  That seems like it takes away some of that isolation, and so that you can connect with other people that are going through whatever particular experience they may be seeing or feeling or thoughts or topics or anything really

KATIE KELLY:  Exactly.

Another example, we partnered with NBC last year to do a virtual democracy plaza.  So we did a recreation of Rockefeller Plaza in VR that you could wander around, go to the ice rink.  And then they brought in some of their amazing talent, Al Roker, Chuck Todd, Steve Kornacki, to do live newscasts in VR

But what they also did was they brought in live streams the presidential debates into VR.  So we did all four of them.

And this sounds like it could go wrong in so many ways, right?  Like you're inviting a very polarized nation and world to come hang out in virtual reality and watch this live together.

But what we found was that people in general when they felt like they were really there with other people, they talked, they communicated.   They weren't leaving mean messages on YouTube, they were actually having a conversation with somebody.  So even while they disagreed, they were talking

The first day after the elections, results came in, I held a casual gathering in VR asking people to talk about their thoughts.  And we had Republicans, we had Democrats, we had people from outside the U.S. talking.  And after about an hour, my heart felt so much better, because the main thing that people kept saying is, hey, we're in this together

And I took off my headset after that moment and felt like I had gotten out of my echo chamber that I see on so many other social media accounts, and felt like, okay, I had connected with the people that I didn't necessarily know or have a face to, and I felt like we got each other.  And that's what I've found in AltSpaceVR all the time

JASON HOWARD:  So that's interesting that you put it that way, because when you don't have some of that personal connection, you end up with a lot of what you see in social media, be it Twitter or Facebook or wherever, where when you don't know the person and it's just a flat 2D image and it's a wall of text that you're scrolling through, it's easy to sit behind your keyboard and type something that you may not necessarily say or not say it the same way if you were face-to-face with somebody or if you were in a group of people

And it sounds like having this extra layer of feeling like you're there, even though you may not physically be there, it kind of takes that down and kind of resets people back to a moment of, hey, I'm actually talking to other people instead of just adding to a wall of text

KATIE KELLY:  Definitely.  And I think what's important, too, is to acknowledge the work that the AltSpaceVR community has also done to make it a really welcoming place.  I don't think it's just you're in VR now, you feel like a better person.

I think we've worked, one, really hard to make sure that we are really welcoming to a diverse group of people.  So we have live in VR customer support all the time.  We have our community support representatives that are always there in the campfire, a living, breathing person in VR.  I can't say that enough, because we're probably the first people to have that always there.  And they are our first person that you talk to, first person to kind of intro you to the product if you have any questions going on.  But also if you have any troubles, if any problems are arising, you can go and talk to a real person and say, hey, I'm having this issue

And then on top of that we've put in some really amazing tools so that you feel like you have control over your environment.  So if I am talking to you and your mic is really loud or maybe you're saying something I don't want to hear, I can mute you.  And then that mutes you for the rest of the experience until I unmute you.  I can also block you if I don't want to see you anymore.  That will remove you from my experience, and will remove me from your experience.  And then also when you block somebody, too, you can report like why did I block this person.

And then you have the live 24-hour support.  But then you also have a space bubble.  And this one's really important I think just in VR because it's really easy for an avatar to get so close to you that you feel they're actually invading your personal space.  It feels really uncomfortable.  And so automatically when you come into AltSpaceVR, you have a space bubble around you that if somebody gets too close they disappear and their handle disappears.  And then if you want to get closer, like if you have a couple friends, people love like cheek kisses in AltSpaceVR and fist bumps and hugs.

There's this one woman, Clair, that lives in London.  She's in AltSpaceVR a lot.  And every time I see her like she wants to give me a hug.  And I get so excited, I'm like, Clair, and we hug, and it feels like I'm getting a real hug by this woman from around the world

So you should have that control, too, to be able to have those more intimate moments when you want, but if you don't, you have some tools at your disposal so you can take care of yourself

JASON HOWARD:  So earlier, you mentioned the concept of an echo chamber.  And a lot of times that gets associated with like political thoughts and things like that.  But if you expand upon it a little bit, you get to the whole like your social bubble of like the things you surround yourself with, right, the spaces you choose to participate in

So how are you like creating inclusive experiences for all kinds of people?  It sounds like you're already taking steps down that path

KATIE KELLY:  I think our events is where we start.  So you can think of an event almost as the easiest way to create VR content, especially if you're not a developer.  And also we should talk later, too, about all the developer tools we have.

But specifically with events if you are just a random person, again maybe living in rural Nebraska, not to pick on rural Nebraska, but you can go into VR, set up an event, and you automatically have a way to talk to a lot of different people.

And our community has been creating most of the events that we've had, especially the last couple months.  And those have included things like book clubs and poetry meetups and writing workshops for NaNoWriMo last month.  And we've had yoga classes and meditation and talent shows, talk shows.  Talk shows have become really popular where you kind of have the original feeling of YouTube.  You have these people that recognize the power of the platform, and they were basically unknown before, but now they're creating a presence in VR

This amazing woman, Vivian, if you ever come into VR, you'll see her show.  And she comes on, and she just puts together this amazing show where she'll have games and trivia and invite people from the audience to come and participate

But we're creating a new medium, and it's really fascinating.  And what that goes back to when it comes to diversity is that our events aren't games, they aren't attracting just a gamer audience that usually skews male.  We're attracting a wide range of people because we aren't a game, we're an experience

So if you come into AltSpaceVR and you want to go to an event, you might go to a meditation event or there's actually a slumber party I think on Monday night.  And women and men are welcome, but it's run by a bunch of women that wanted to have an event where they could connect with other women and watch movies and TV and just hang out

So that's what makes me really excited about the diversity possibility of VR is that AltSpaceVR is showing that there's a lot of people out there that want to experience VR.  They just don't necessarily know where to go, and AltSpaceVR seems to be a great place for them to start

JASON HOWARD:  Yeah.  So having this type of space, and I know we touched on a moment about ago about muting and blocking people, things like that, right?  And as we mentioned before, on traditional social platforms there's the whole concept of trolling and annoying people and people that are out to in essence create an unwelcoming environment or they try to take over conversations, things like that, right?  Have you seen this as a problem in AltSpaceVR as of now?  Do you expect it to be a problem into the future

KATIE KELLY:  It's a problem in VR in general.  It's a problem in real life in general

So one thing that my team spends a lot of time thinking about is how do we try to address those problems as soon as possible, and give users the chance to address it themselves, which is why our mute and our block and our bubble are so important, and why are in-VR 24/7 support is really important

So what we found, one, when you come into social VR I do think you're more likely to feel like you are around real people.  So I think it makes it a little bit harder to cause as much grief as maybe some other social platforms, because you want to fit in.  You feel like there's a little bit of a culture that you're joining, and you want to be a part of it

But if you don't and you want to cause havoc, you'll figure out ways to.  So we want to make sure that when that happens, we can remove that person as soon as possible or at least have the users have the tools they need to remove them from their own experience

JASON HOWARD:  So there's obviously some guidelines in place as for if there's a person who's continually disruptive or creating an unwelcoming environment, things of that nature, that there are consequences to those actions

KATIE KELLY:  Yeah, we have a list of community standards that are very important to us that include everything from respecting other people and being inclusive, but also being mindful that we are inviting people from around the world to be in this space together, so we need to work together to make sure that everybody feels welcome and kind of know the rules

JASON HOWARD:  So in the opening, right, you mentioned that AltSpaceVR had been acquired by Microsoft.  What was that like?  Like how did that happen

KATIE KELLY:  It has been a roller coaster I think for our team the last couple of months, but it's also been really exciting, especially where we ended up.

We thought we were closing down in June, and we closed up shop and left AltSpaceVR running.  We're able to keep everything there.  We actually had a goodbye party planned that our users -

JASON HOWARD:  Wait, wait, wait, wait, like closing  as in closing the doors, ending the service potentially?  Like, ow, okay

KATIE KELLY:  Yeah, we got to a point where that was unfortunately the reality kind of where we were at.  And we had a goodbye party planned, and a bunch of our users showed up.  And it was really heart-wrenching.  But people on my team just kept fighting for the service, and telling people like why this mattered.

And then we connected with the Microsoft team, and they saw why it mattered, and they really grew passionate about what we created, and lo and behold, we were acquired by Microsoft

JASON HOWARD:  Wow.  That's a good thing, right?  I mean, with the good work that you're doing, and obviously the plans that you have for the future, it's nice that the doors didn't get closed.

But anytime there's an acquisition, things seem to change a bit.  How do you see this particular acquisition changing the direction of the company

KATIE KELLY:  The thing that I've loved the most that I've heard from the team that we now work with at Microsoft over and over again is that they want AltSpaceVR to stay AltSpaceVR, and that they in a lot of ways are coming to us and our team to kind of find out about like what we did right, and what we've learned for now

So in a lot of ways we feel really respected as a team, and really excited about the potential to use the resources, the massive amount of resources that Microsoft has to improve the experience in AltSpaceVR, grow our community, make more exciting events and experiences, and yeah, just grow this thing that we like passionately spent like the last couple years working on

JASON HOWARD:  So you mentioned earlier developer tools as part of this platform.  Do you want to highlight on that a little bit

KATIE KELLY:  AltSpaceVR's SDK community is a bunch of really creative, really scrappy people that with three.js and A-frame can build their own experiences and environments in AltSpaceVR

You can go to and check out our developer community and join our Slack, and you'll basically be introduced to a lot of people that are just doing some of the coolest stuff in VR that I've ever seen

So in AltSpaceVR now you can go and you can check out a desert environment that somebody made with a tiki bar.  This amazing woman Faye made a karaoke room with posters that she designed all over the walls, and rainbow wallpaper and rainbow floors

So basically, you can kind of let your creativity go wild, and using our SDK make your own VR experiences

JASON HOWARD:  So are there any community imposed limitations on what they can create?  Like is there any content that's, for lack of a better word, almost forbidden or not welcome

KATIE KELLY:  We think about ourselves really similar to I think how we think about the Internet.  So a space in AltSpaceVR is really similar to a web page.  And we think that people should be able to make whatever web content they want and bring it into AltSpaceVR

That doesn't mean we're going to allow our general community to go and see it.  So you always have to go through at least one step to have your content on our listed events page.  But you will have a URL that you can share with your friends.  So if you make a room that you're really excited about, and just want to share it with your community, by all means.

And you also have the chance to have private events and private spaces, and you can make it friends only

So there's a lot of different ways that you can kind of customize like who you want to share your content with, but we are going to be following our community standards and our guidelines for anything that the general community is going to see

JASON HOWARD:  So as part of those standards are there age limitations, anything that need to be thought of before somebody potentially tries to join the community

KATIE KELLY:  AltSpaceVR is 13 and over.  And then we have content that we will put warnings on the banner of the tile image on the event page that will tell you whether it's appropriate for 17-plus or more for adults

We are a community for adults, and we have some amazing like 13 to 17 year olds in general, but in general when you come to AltSpaceVR you're going to feel like you're around other adults, and it's something that we tried to make the community really awesome for that

JASON HOWARD:  So we've talked a lot about the social aspect and people interacting, but more to the broad picture like what do you think the future of social VR experience is?

KATIE KELLY:  The future of social VR I think is really up to the imagination of what people can make there.  I do think that VR in general is going to be social, no matter what, in some capacity.

And so I think that the future is just becoming a place where anybody can go meet, interact, share content, do cool events, go do other VR experiences, but eventually you're going to want to do it with your friends and the people that you know.  So we think that the future of VR is social, to say it so bluntly

JASON HOWARD:  Well, I've got my mom on Facebook, so maybe I can send her a headset and get her to come join one of these types of spaces at some point

KATIE KELLY:  You should.  It's really fun

JASON HOWARD:  So just as a quick reminder, how can the listeners join the AltSpaceVR community

KATIE KELLY:  You can join AltSpaceVR by going to or go to any store on your Oculus headset, on your Samsung Gear, on your Daydream, or through Google Play, and you can look up AltSpaceVR and download us for whatever platform you have.  And if you have a mixed reality headset, you can go to the Steam VR Bridge and find AltSpaceVR and download that.  And we really hope to see you in VR sometime

JASON HOWARD:  The acquisition of AltSpaceVR is just one of the ways Microsoft is working on a catalog of immersive experiences.  From games to travel to videos, there are so many ways MR can enhance our work and social lives

We're going to continue exploring the subject of mixed reality in January's episode.  Join us next month to find out how the traditional media industry is incorporating virtual reality, and we'll find out more about the technical process for turning people and animals into holograms.  You won't want to miss it

Make sure you never miss an episode of the Windows Insider podcast by subscribing wherever you get your podcasts.  And if you liked this episode, be sure to review and rate the podcast so others can discover it as well

Thanks, Insiders.  Join us next time on the Windows Insider Podcast

NARRATOR:  Our program today was produced by Microsoft Production Studios.  The Insider team includes Tyler An (ph), Michelle Paisan (ph), and Amelia Grime (ph)

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