The portrait of an avatar as a young artist

In this episode of Flux I talk with LaTurbo Avedon, an online avatar who has been active as an artist and curator since 2008.  Recently we’ve seen a wave of next-gen virtual stars rise up, from Lil Miquela in the west to pop-stars like Kizuna AI in the east. As face and body tracking make real-time avatar representation accessible, what emergent behaviors will we see? What will our virtual relationships evolve? How will these behaviors translate into the physical world when augmented reality is widespread?
LaTurbo was early to exploring these questions of identity and experimenting with telepresence. She has shape-shifted across media types, spending time in everything from AOL and chat rooms, to MMOs, virtual worlds and social media platforms. In this conversation she shares her thoughts on how social networks have breached our trust, why a breakup is likely, and how users should take control of their data. We get into the rise of battle royale gaming, why multiplicity of self is important, and how we can better express agency and identity online.

An excerpt of our conversation is published below. Full podcast on iTunes and transcript on Medium.

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ALG: Welcome to the latest episode of Flux. I am excited to introduce LaTurbo Avedon. LaTurbo is an avatar and artist originating in virtual space, per her website and online statement. Her works can be described as research into dimensions, deconstructions, and explosion of forms exploring topics of virtual authorship and the physicality of the Internet. LaTurbo has exhibited all over the world from Peru to Korea to the Whitney in New York. I’m thrilled to have her on the show. Metaphorically of course. It’s just me here in the studio. LaTurbo is remote. 

When we got the demo file earlier I was excited to hear the slight Irish lilt in your robotic voice. As a Brit I feel like we have a bond there.

LaTurbo: Thank you for the patience. It is like a jigsaw puzzle, our voices together.

ALG: Of course it’s all about being patient as we try out new things on the frontier. And you represent that frontier. This show is about people that are pushing the boundaries in their fields. A lot of them are building companies, some are scientists. Recently we’ve had a few more artists on and that’s something I believe is important in all of these fields. Because you’re taking the time to do the hard work and think about technology and its impact and how we can stretch it and use it in different ways and broaden our thinking. You play an important role.

LaTurboWe will get things smoothed out eventually as my vocalization gets easier and more natural with better tools. Alice I appreciate you trekking out here with me and trying this format out.

ALG: I love a good trek. Maybe you can give a brief intro on who is LaTurbo. I believe you started in Second Life. I’d love to hear about those origins. Phil Rosedale was one of the first people I interviewed on this podcast, the founder of Second Life. Shout out to Phil. I’d love to hear what’s been your journey since then. Oh and also happy 10th birthday.

“I’ve spent decades inside of virtual environments, in many ways I came of age alongside the Internet. My early years in my adolescence in role-playing games. From the early years I was enamored by cyber space”

LaTurboI know that it is circuitous at times but this process has made me work hard to explore what it takes to be here like this. Well I started out early on in the shapes of America Online, intranets, and private message boards. Second Life opened this up incredibly, taking things away from the closed worlds of video games. We had to work even harder to be individuals in early virtual worlds using character editors, roleplaying games, and other platforms in shared network spaces. This often took the shape of default characters — letting Final Fantasy, Goldeneye, or other early game titles be the space where we performed alternative identities.

ALG: If you’re referring to Goldeneye on N64 I spent considerable time on it growing up. So I might have seen you running around there.

LaTurbo: It was a pleasure to listen to your conversation with Philip Rosedale as he continues to explore what comes next, afterwards, in new sandboxes. What was your first avatar?

ALG: I did play a lot of video games growing up. I was born in Hong Kong and was exposed mostly to the Nintendo and Sega side of things, so maybe one of those Mario Kart characters — Princess Peach or really I went for Yoshi if those count as avatars. I’d love to get into your experience in gaming. You said you started off exploring more closed world games and then you discovered Second Life. You’ve spent a lot of time in MMORPGs and obviously that’s one of the main ways that people have engaged with avatars. I’d love to hear how your experiences have been in different games and any commentary on the worlds you’re spending time in now.

LaTurbo: I think that even if they weren’t signature unique identities or your own avatar, those forms of early video games were a first key to understand more about facets of yourself through them. For me gaming is like water being added to the creative sandbox. There is fusion inside of game worlds — narrative, music, performance, design, problem solving, communication, so many different factors of life and creativity that converge within a pliable file. Some of the most Final Fantasies of games are now realities. Users move place to place using many maps and system menus on their devices. The physical world so closely bonded by users like me that brought bits of the game out with us. Recently I spent several months wandering around inside of Red Dead Redemption 2. I enjoyed the narrative of the main storyline though I was far more interested in having quiet moments away from all of the violence. I named my horse Sontag and went out exploring, taking photographs and using slow motion game exploits to make videos. Several months as the weary cowboy named Arthur, and then I carried on my way. I take bits and pieces with me on the way.

LaTurbo’s Overwatch avatar

ALG: As you’ve gone across different games and platforms like Red Dead Redemption 2 are there specific people you’ve made friends with? How have your friendships formed in these different communities and do they travel between games? 

LaTurbo: I have had many gaming friends. Virtual friends overlap between all of these worlds. My Facebook friends are not very different than those I fight with in Overwatch or the ones I challenge scores with in Tetris Effect.

ALG: One thing you’ve said about gaming and I’ll read the quote straight out:

“I love the MMO or massively multiplayer online experience for a lot of reasons but primarily because I want to create works collaboratively with my network, because we are in this moment together. For a long time virtual worlds were partitioned from the public because you either had to be invested in gaming or a chat room/ BBS user to get into them.”

I want to explore that. Gaming has come a long way in the 10 years since you were created. It’s more widespread now. Things like Fortnite. I saw that Red Dead Redemption is introducing a Fortnite like feature where they’re going to have battle royale mode and toss people into a battle zone and force them to search for weapons to survive. I think a lot of people are looking at the success of Fortnite and replicating elements of it. Can you comment on how gaming has become more widespread or more in the public mind and what you think of the rise of Fortnite?

LaTurboOur histories are fluid, intersecting and changing depending on the world we choose to inhabit. Sometimes we are discussing art on Instagram. Other times we are discussing game lore or customization of ourselves. This variety is so important to me. There is a lot exchanged between worlds like Fortnite and the general physical day to day. Expectations are real and high. The battle royale model has pushed people to a sort of edge at all times. A constant pressure of chance and risk, it crosses between games but also into general attention. Video apps like TikTok have a similar model — always needing to have the drop on the creators around you.

ALG: It’s interesting that tension. These games are driven to create competition. They are businesses so they’re supposed to build in loops and mechanics that keep people engaging. But as you describe of your experience in Red Redemption you’ve also found quiet moments of exploration being alone and not necessarily fiercely competing. 

LaTurbo: Red Dead could be a hundred games in one. Yet for some reason we come back to the royale again. It is a maximal experience in a lot of ways. One that uses failure and frustration to keep users trying again perpetually. This is a telling sign as you’ve said about the business of games. The loop. I worry that this is a risky model because it doesn’t encourage a level of introspection very often.

ALG: I love video games but have never been a fan of first person shooters. I don’t enjoy the violence. But I’ve always loved strategy and exploration games. To your point about exploring, I would spend hours wandering on Epona [the horse] in Zelda, running across the fields. But I didn’t feel that a lot of those games were designed for women or people who weren’t interested in the violence or the GTA type approach. I’m excited to see more of that happening now and gaming CEOs realizing there’s a huge untapped market of people that want to play in different modes and experience gaming in different ways. It feels like we are moving towards that future. I do want to get in to how you have expanded beyond gaming. I’ll read some of your quotes from when you started out:

“I’ve been making work in digital environments since 2008 to 2009, though I’ve only been using social media for about a year now since I can’t go out and mingle with people it’s been quite nice to use social platforms to share my work. This way I can be in real life IRL as much as people allow me to be.”

I want to get to the question of how you’ve expanded from gaming to social media, building your Twitter and Instagram presence and how you think about your engagement on those platforms.

LaTurbo: I celebrate the multiplicity of self. Walt Whitman spoke of their contradictions years ago accepting themselves in the sense that they contain multitudes. As I wandered the fields of fictitious Admiral Grant in Red Dead Redemption 2, it occurred to me that I was wondering inside of Leaves of Grass. It made sense that I too was wandering around out in the fields and trees. Virtual life in poetry, song, or simulation gives us a different sort of armor where our forms can forget about borders, rules and expectations that have yet to change outside.

It has been quite a decade. Events of the past 10 years could easily be the plot of a William Gibson novel. A cyber drama and all its actors. With and without consent users have watched their personal data slip away from their control, quick to release in the terms of service. Quick to be public, to have more followers and visibility. Is it real without the Instagram proof? I chose to socialize away from game worlds for a few different purposes. To imbue my virtual identity with the moment of social media. But also to create a symbol of a general virtual self. A question mark or a mirror, to encourage reflection before people fully drown themselves in the stream.

ALG: One of the reasons it’s fascinating to talk to you now is that you’ve come of age as the Internet has come of age. You’ve navigated and shape-shifted across these platforms. And so much has happened since 2008. You’ve been on everything from Tumblr to Pinterest to Vine to Snapchat to Instagram. I’m curious where you think we are in the life cycle of these social media platforms?

LaTurbo: It has been quite a journey, seeing these services pop up, new fields, new places. But it is clear that not many of these things will remain very long. A new Wild West of sorts. They are more like ingredients in a greater solution as we try to make virtual relationships that are comfortable for both mind and body.

ALG: Speaking of these services popping up I want to get to something you tweeted out, your commentary on Facebook:

“If it wasn’t bad already just imagine how toxic Facebook will be when we collectively decide to break up with them. Anticipate a paid web and an underweb. We just start spinning them out on our own, smaller and away from all these analytics moneymakers. The changeover from MySpace era networks to Facebook felt minimal because it hadn’t become such a market-oriented utility. But this impending social network breakup is going to be felt in all sorts of online sectors.”

That’s an interesting opinion. The delete Facebook movement is strong right now. But I wonder how far it will go and how many people really follow it?

LaTurbo: Business complicates this as companies extend too far and make use of this data for personal gain or manipulation. In the same way that Google Glass failed because of a camera, these services destroy themselves as they breach the trust of those who use them. These companies know that these are toxic relationships whether it is on a game economy or a social network. They know that the leverage over your personal data is valuable. Losing this, our friends, and our histories is frightening. We need to find some way to siphon ourselves and our data back so we can learn to express agency with who we are online. Your data is more valuable than the services that you give it to. The idea that people feel that it is fair to let their accounts be inherently bound to a single service is disturbing. Our virtual lives exceed us and will continue to do so onward into time. Long after us this data may still linger somewhere.

ALG: I’m going to throw in a Twitter poll you did a few months ago. “If you had the choice to join some sort of afterlife simulation that would keep you around forever at the expense of having your data used for miscellaneous third party purposes would you?” 35% said yes and 65% said no in this poll. I bet if you ask that every two years, over time the answers will continue to change as we get more comfortable with our digital identities and what that really means. You’re pushing us to ask these questions.

LaTurboWe see in museums now torn parchments, scrolls, ancient wrappings of lives and histories. As we become more virtual these documents will inherently change too. A markup and data takes this place. However we consent to let it be represented. If we leave this to the Facebooks and Twitters of this period, our histories are in many ways contingent on the survival of these platforms. If not we have lost a dark ages, it is a moment that we will lose forever.

ALG: I’m curious what you think of the different movements to export your personal data, own it, have it travel with you across platforms and build a new pact with the companies. Are you following any of the movements to take back personal data and rewrite the social technological contract?

LaTurboIt would be sad to have less record of this period of innovation and self-discovery because we didn’t back things up or control our data appropriately. Where do you keep it? Who protects it? Who is a steward of your records? All of this needs to begin with the user and end with the user. An album, a solid state tablet of your life, something you can take charge of without concern that it is marketing fodder or some large shared database. As online as we are as a society, I recommend people have an island. Not a cloud but a private place, plugged in when you request it. A drive of your own where you have a private order. Oddly enough in an older world sense you can find solitude in solid states, when you have the retreat to files that are not connected to the Internet.

ALG: And have it backed up and air-gapped from the internet for safety and possibly in a Faraday cage in case you get EMP’ed. One thing that leads on from that — Facebook has capitalized on using our real data, our personal data. I have the statement on authentic identity from their original S-1 here:

“We believe that using your real name, connecting to your real friends and sharing your genuine interests online creates more engaging and meaningful experiences. Representing yourself with your authentic identity online encourages you to behave with the same norms that foster trust and respect in your daily life offline. Authentic identity is core to the Facebook experience and we believe that it is central to the future of the Web. Our terms of service require you to use your real name. And we encourage you to be your true self online enabling us and platform developers to provide you with more personalized experiences.”

LaTurbo: The use of a real name, authenticity, and Facebook’s message of truth. It is peculiar that Facebook used this angle because it was such a gloved gesture for them to access our accurate records. The verification is primarily to make businesses comfortable with their investment in marketing. I wish it came to celebrate personal expression not to tune business instruments.

ALG: Over the last 5 to 10 years we’ve seen a movement towards Facebook and being our real selves. Now there’s kind of a backlash both to the usage of Facebook but perhaps also to the idea that your real identity, your true self that you have offline, that that’s what you should be representing online. You are an anonymous artist and there’s precedent for that. There have been many writers with nom de plumes over centuries and in the present day we’ve got Daft Punk, Banksy, Elena Ferrante, fascinating creators. I’m curious your thoughts as we move away from real selves being represented online to expressing our other selves online. We’ve been living in an age of shameless self-promotion. Do you think that the rise of people representing themselves with digital avatars is a backlash to that? Society usually goes through a back and forth, a struggle for balance. Do you think people are getting disenchanted with the unrelenting narcissism of social media, the celebrity worship culture? Do you think this is a bigger movement that’s going to stick?

LaTurbo: I see this as an opportunity and I am wary of this chance being usurped by business. If I had the chance to see all of my friends in the avatar forms of their wishes and dreams I believe I’d be seeing them for the first time. A different sort of wholeness against the sky, where they had the chance to say and be exactly what they wished others to find. If you haven’t created an avatar before please do. Explore yourself in many facets before these virtual spaces get twisted into stratified arenas of business.

A full talk from LaTurbo Avedon is available here

I don’t seek to be anonymous but to represent myself in this strand of experiences, fully. That’s who I have become. As an artist I will continue to change with what surrounds me. Each step forward. Each new means of making and learning. I celebrate this and who I will become, even if I continue to find definition over a period of time that I right now cannot fully comprehend.

I am often in the company of crude avatars of the past. As I read journals, view sketches and works from artists past, if they understood their avatar identities and how they would be here now in 2019. I wonder what they would have done differently. What would they think of their graphic design and exhibitions? How their work is shown in other mediums? How their work is sold?

ALG: Taking that with your earlier point, you said if you had the chance you would love to see all your friends in their avatar forms “express all their wishes and dreams.” It fascinates me, the idea that we persistently remain one to one with our offline/online identities. It doesn’t make sense. I feel like everyone has multiple selves and multiple things to express. Do you feel that most people should have a digital identity or abstraction? Do you think it’s healthy to have an extension of something that’s inside of you, especially since as you say some of these avatars are pretty crude. How do you feel about most people creating a digital avatar? People have been doing this for a while without realizing through things like a Tinder bio or Instagram stories. They’re already putting out ideas of themselves. But creating true anonymous digital avatars, is that something people should pursue?

LaTurbo: Avatars remain in places that we often don’t even intend them to. Symbols of self. For those that pass or those we never had the chance to meet, there seems to be importance here. To need to take this seriously so that it isn’t misunderstood. The most beautiful experiences I’ve had online are when I feel I am interacting with a user how they wish to be seen. Whether this is in the present or for people later, finding this inward representation feels essential especially for those exposed to oppressive societies. Whether it’s toxic masculinity, cultural restrictions, or other hindrances that prevent people from showing deeper parts of their identity.

I have four essential asks of users creating avatars. Though these apply well outside of just this topic. 1/ Be sweet. 2/ Encourage others to explore themselves and all of their differences. 3/ Learn about the history of virtual identities, now, then, and long before. This means going back. Read about identities before the internet, pen names, mythologies. 4/ Celebrate your ownership of self. You, not your services, subscriptions, or products, are the one to decide your way. Don’t become billboards. I’ve been asked by many companies over the years to promote their products, to drop the branded text on my clothing or to push a new service. These are exciting times but brands know this too. Be wary of exploitation. Protect yourself and your heart.

ALG: That’s really beautiful and important. We’re rushing into this future fast and I don’t think people are stopping to pause and think about some of the ideas you’ve spent a long time thinking about. It’s probably a good place to end. I have a million more things I want to ask, hopefully we can continue this chat over Discord, Twitter, Instagram, Second Life or wherever it is. I’m in VR a lot so I’d love to meet you in there. If there’s anything you want to end on, any final comments or projects you’re working on?

LaTurbo: Yes I agree with you very much. Technology moves quickly but we need to take the time to consider ourselves as we move inside this space. We have so much potential to be inside and out simultaneously. I am excited for this new year. I hope it brings positivity to everyone. I am showing a new piece called “Afterlife Beta” in London at the Arebyte Gallery. After this I will be working on my first monograph. I am excited to make something printed that might stick around in the physical world for a while.

ALG: That’s awesome. Love a good physical piece. And congratulations on “Afterlife Beta.” I appreciate your patience with my jumping in at all times in this conversation. I’ve been following your work and hope everyone else will too. You’re a fascinating, critical thinker and artist at this current point in history. Thanks LaTurbo.

LaTurbo: Thank you for your patience with my format. As time goes on I hope it is easier for us to be here together.

Is Knotel poised to turn WeWork from a Unicorn into an Icarus?

The day of reckoning for the ‘flexible office space as a startup’ is coming, and it’s coming up fast. WeWork’s IPO filing has fired the starting gun on the race to become the game-changer both in the future of property and real estate but also the future of how we live and work. As Churchill once said, ‘we shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us’.

Until recently WeWork was the ruler by which other flexible space startups were measured, but questions are now being asked if it deserves its valuation. The profitable IWG plc, formerly Regus, has been a business providing serviced offices, virtual offices, meeting rooms, and the rest, for years and yet WeWork is valued by ten times more.

That’s not to mention how it exposes landlords to $40 billion in rent commitments, something which a few of them are starting to feel rather nervous about.

Some analysts even say WeWork’s IPO is a ‘masterpiece of obfuscation’

How Roblox avoided the gaming graveyard and grew into a $2.5B company

There are successful companies that grow fast and garner tons of press. Then there’s Roblox, a company which took at least a decade to hit its stride and has, relative to its current level of success, barely gotten any recognition or attention.

Why has Roblox’s story gone mostly untold? One reason is that it emerged from a whole generation of gaming portals and platforms. Some, like King.com, got lucky or pivoted their business. Others by and large failed.

Once companies like Facebook, Apple and Google got to the gaming scene, it just looked like a bad idea to try to build your own platform — and thus not worth talking about. Added to that, founder and CEO Dave Baszucki seems uninterested in press.

But overall, the problem has been that Roblox just seemed like an insignificant story for many, many years. The company had millions of users, sure. So did any number of popular games. In its early days, Roblox even looked like Minecraft, a game that was released long after Roblox went live, but that grew much, much faster.

Yet here we are today: Roblox now claims that half of all American children aged 9-12 are on its platform. It has jumped to 90 million monthly unique users and is poised to go international, potentially multiplying that number. And it’s unique. Essentially all other distribution services offering games through a portal have eventually fizzled, aside from some distant cousins like Steam.

This is the story of how Roblox not only survived, but built a thriving platform.

Seeds of an idea

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(Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

Before Roblox, there was Knowledge Revolution, a company that made teaching software. While designed to allow students to simulate physics experiments, perhaps predictably, they also treated it like a game.

“The fun seemed to be in building your own experiment,” says Baszucki. “When people were playing it and we went into schools and labs, they were all making car crashes and buildings fall down, making really funny stuff.” Provided with a sandbox, kids didn’t just make dry experiments about mass or velocity — they made games, or experiences they could show off to friends for a laugh.

Knowledge Revolution was founded in 1989, by Dave Baszucki and his brother Greg (who didn’t later co-found Roblox, but is now on its board). Nearly a decade later, it was acquired for $20 million by MSC Software, which made professional simulation tools. Dave continued there for another four years before leaving to become an angel investor.

Baszucki put money into Friendster, a company that pre-dated Facebook and MySpace in the social networking category. That investment seeded another piece of the idea for Roblox. Taken together, the legacy of Knowledge Revolution and Friendster were the two key components undergirding Roblox: a physics sandbox with strong creation tools, and a social graph.

Baszucki himself is a third piece of the puzzle. Part of an older set of entrepreneurs, which might be called the Steve Jobs generation, Baszucki’s archetype seems closer to Mr. Rogers than Jobs himself: unfailingly polite and enthusiastic, never claiming superior insight, and preferring to pass credit for his accomplishments on to others. In conversation, he shows interests both central and tangential to Roblox, like virtual environments, games, education, digital identity and the future of tech. Somewhere in this heady mix, the idea of Roblox came about.

The first release

‘This is Your Life in Silicon Valley’: Former Pinterest President, Moment CEO Tim Kendall on Smartphone Addiction

Welcome to this week’s transcribed edition of This is Your Life in Silicon Valley. We’re running an experiment for Extra Crunch members that puts This is Your Life in Silicon Valley in words – so you can read from wherever you are.

This is Your Life in Silicon Valley was originally started by Sunil Rajaraman and Jascha Kaykas-Wolff in 2018. Rajaraman is a serial entrepreneur and writer (Co-Founded Scripted.com, and is currently an EIR at Foundation Capital), Kaykas-Wolff is the current CMO at Mozilla and ran marketing at BitTorrent. Rajaraman and Kaykas-Wolff started the podcast after a series of blog posts that Sunil wrote for The Bold Italic went viral.

The goal of the podcast is to cover issues at the intersection of technology and culture – sharing a different perspective of life in the Bay Area. Their guests include entrepreneurs like Sam Lessin, journalists like Kara Swisher and politicians like Mayor Libby Schaaf and local business owners like David White of Flour + Water.

This week’s edition of This is Your Life in Silicon Valley features Tim Kendall, the former President of Pinterest and current CEO of Moment. Tim ran monetization at Facebook, and has very strong opinions on smartphone addiction and what it is doing to all of us. Tim is an architect of much of the modern social media monetization machinery, so you definitely do not want to miss his perspective on this important subject.

For access to the full transcription, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Sunil Rajaraman: Welcome to season three of This is Your Life in Silicon Valley. A Podcast about the Bay Area, technology, and culture. I’m your host, Sunil Rajaraman and I’m joined by my cohost, Jascha Kaykas-Wolff.

Jascha Kaykas-Wolff: Are you recording?

Rajaraman: I’m recording.

Kaykas-Wolff: I’m almost done. My phone’s been buzzing all afternoon and I just have to finish this text message.

Rajaraman: So you’re one of those people who can’t go five seconds without checking their phone.

The Internet Archive has uploaded 450,000 songs collected before Myspace’s massive data loss

Last month, it became widely known that MySpace has lost much of the user data uploaded to it before 2016, including potentially million of music tracks from between 2003 to 2015. This is a significant loss for people who may not have used the site anymore, but took for granted that it would remain an online scrapbook of the years when Myspace was the go-to social network, including for musicians promoting their work. A new collection of MP3s hosted by the Internet Archive, however, may help some users recover lost music (and memories).

Called the MySpace Music Dragon Hoard, the collection contains 450,000 songs. While this is just a small percentage of the tracks reportedly lost (according to estimates, up to 53 million songs from 14 million artists were deleted), it contains early work from now-famous artists including Donald Glover and Katy Perry, as Twitter user @pinkpushpop discovered.

Jason Scott of the Internet Archive said on Twitter that the set was compiled by “an anonymous academic group who were studying music networks and grabbed 1.3 terabytes of mp3s to study from MySpace in roughly 2008-2010 to do so.” After learning about the data loss, they offered the collection to Scott.

While it appears that the tracks were lost during a data migration, MySpace has remained tight-lipped about the situation, leading to speculation that the loss may not have been accidental.

MySpace may have lost more than a decade’s worth of user music

It’s not as if the internet needed another cautionary tale about backing up data, but for many artists, this news is heartbreaking nonetheless. MySpace has issued a tersely worded message noting that a huge amount of user uploaded music has been lost during a server migration.

The once dominant social network posted a note on its site reading, “As a result of a server migration project, any photos, videos, and audio files you uploaded more than three years ago may no longer be available on or from MySpace. We apologize for the inconvenience.”

Users have been reporting issues with music uploaded between 2003 and 2015 for around a year now. We’ve reached out to MySpace for additional insight into the issue — and whether what could well be millions of tracks are indeed permanently lost in the digital ether. Honestly though, things don’t look too good for MySpace or music uploaders.

Some are understandably skeptical of the whole situation. Others are suggesting this be seen as a cautionary tale for those relying on more contemporary services to host their art. For many, however, it’s a huge segment of formative internet years seemingly wiped away like a sand castle in the tide.

MySpace was, of course, a major internet presence in the mid-aughts. The company was purchased by NewsCorp for $580 million in 2005, becoming the most visited site in the States around the same time. Six years later, it was sold for a mere $35 million, having since been eclipsed by Facebook.

In recent years, MySpace has attempted to pivot to a music-first site, with middling results. Nothing gold can stay, as the saying goes — and for now, at least, that appears to include the volumes of music once hosted on its servers.

Jam City is setting up a Toronto shop by buying Bingo Pop from Uken Games

The Los Angeles game development studio Jam City is setting up a shop in Toronto with the acquisition of Bingo Pop from Uken Games.

Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

The deal is part of a broader effort to expand the Jam City portfolio of games and geographic footprint. In recent months the company has inked agreements with Disney — taking over development duties on some of the company’s games like Disney Emoji Blitz and signing on to develop new ones — and launching new games in conjunction with other famous franchises like Harry Potter.

The Bingo Pop acquisition will bring a gambling game into the casual game developer’s stable of titles that pulled in roughly $700,000 in revenue through October, according to data from SensorTower.

“We are so proud to be continuing Jam City’s rapid global expansion with the acquisition of one of the most popular bingo titles, and its highly talented team,” said Chris DeWolfe, co-founder and CEO of Jam City, in a statement. “This acquisition provides Jam City with access to leading creative talent in one of the fastest growing and most exciting tech markets in the world. We look forward to working with the talented Jam City team in Toronto as we supercharge the live operations of Bingo Pop and develop innovative new titles and mobile entertainment experiences.”

Founded in Los Angeles in 2009 by DeWolfe, who previously helped create and launch MySpace, and 20th Century Fox exec Josh Yguado, Jam City rose to prominence on the back of its Cookie Jame and Panda Pop games. Now, the company has expanded through licensing deals with Harry Potter, Family Guy, Marvel, and now Disney. Jam City has offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Bogota, and Buenos Aires.

 

The forgotten ‘Facebook of China’ is sold for $20M

Renren, which was once heralded as the ‘Facebook of China’ and later became China’s answer to MySpace after falling out of fashion among its core young users, is selling its social networking business.

Renren’s parent company Beijing Qianxiang Wangjing has agreed to sell all tangible and intangible assets of renren.com to Beijing Infinities Interactive Media, according to a statement. As part of the deal, Qianxiang will receive $40 million worth of shares in Beijing Infinities, a $700 million firm that owns one of China’s major IT news sites DoNews.

“I am happy to find a home for renren.com,” says Renren’s chairman and chief executive officer Joseph Chen in the statement.

The social network won’t be foreign to its new home. On the list of the buyer’s shareholders is Oak Pacific Holdings, which Chen and James Liu, Renren’s executive director and chief operating officer, control.

Once a highflyer in China’s PC era, Renren’s prospects have faded as it fell behind peers like Tencent and Weibo in the mobile space. Its stocks hover around $2 today, compared with its spectacular moment at $84 when it debuted on the New York Stock Exchange in 2011. That put its market cap only behind Tencent and Baidu. Renren says it plans to remain listed in the US after disposing of its social networking arm.

Shedding its social network legacy, the company says, will allow it to focus on the more promising ventures. In recent years, Renren has diversified into areas outside the social space, including a used car platform in China, US-based transportation network Trucker Path, and a SaaS business in the US. The auto unit has been a key revenue driver, accounting for more than 90 percent of its total revenues in Q2 this year, a spike from 60 percent throughout 2017.

Renren has also been a prolific startup investor with a portfolio valued at $500 million (paywalled) after deducting debt, according to the Financial Times. The company was also mulling an ICO earlier this year but reportedly shelved the plan after talks with Chinese regulators.

A glorious past

These days, Chinese youngsters hang out on WeChat, QQ, Weibo, and increasingly Douyin – TikTok’s China version – but back in the PC days, teens and college students flocked to renren.com.

Like Facebook, Renren started from the dorm rooms at China’s top universities. Its founders aptly named it “Xiaonei”, which means “on campus”, when they started the site to target student users in 2005. Among its early founders was Wang Xing, who would go on to launch Meituan Dianping, a neighborhood services provider that has blossomed into a $300 billion giant listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

A year later, Chen bought out Xiaonei and merged it with his own Xiaonei rival. He later renamed the new entity to Renren, which means “everybody”. The social network flourished and got a further boost after China blocked its American competitor Facebook in 2009.

In its heyday, Renren had over 100 million active users. Today, it’s more like a time capsule, but its once loyal users haven’t erased it from their memories. In August, Renren staged a marketing stunt that got waves of internet users reminiscing their good old days on the site. Topics ranged from how they played browser games together and sent anonymous notifications to crushes. But the excitement was transient, and people soon resumed their routines on the mainstream social apps of 2018.

Renren has not mentioned plans to close down its forgotten social network, so users can still log in whenever they feel nostalgic, safe from the agony that their Path counterparts had to go through when the latter recently shuttered.

Where are they now? How these 9 social networks have fared since Twitter was born

Social Networks

A lot has happened in the ten years since Twitter was founded — Apple’s App Store and Google Play have come to fruition, the app economy is a billion-dollar industry, and mobile phones have become the new computers. This shift in the way people communicate and interact with each other opens many opportunities not only for fledgling startups, but companies born before the smartphone revolution was in full swing.

But it’s often easier for companies born during a technological shift to embrace it — Snapchat, for example, is killing it. Facebook was almost left shaking its fist at the smartphone dust cloud, but it turned things around in time and now more than half of its 1.5 billion users only ever access the service on mobile.

Twitter may be struggling by some metrics, but more than 300 million monthly active users (MAUs) is nothing to be sniffed at, with 80 percent of those active on mobile. For all the nay-saying, Twitter has done a great job of moving with the times and ensuring it isn’t left behind. So to give a little context to Twitter’s current position and place in the tech realm, it may help to take a look at other social networks that have floundered since Twitter’s inception.

Friendster

Founded by Canadian coder Jonathan Abrams in 2002, Friendster predated Twitter by some four years, and Facebook by two years. At one point it claimed north of 115 million registered users.

The company had reportedly spurned the advances of Google for a proposed $30 million acquisition in 2003, but was eventually snapped up in 2009 by MOL, a Kuala Lumpur-based payment systems vendor. MOL then sold a slew of Friendster’s patents to Facebook for a reported $40 million.

After a pivot to become a social gaming and entertainment platform in 2011 which saw it continue with some success in many parts of Asia, Friendster’s demise at the hands of the more powerful and omnipresent Facebook and, to a lesser extent Twitter, was complete by 2015. Friendster is officially “taking a break” but there’s no real hope for its revival.

Friendster Announcement

Above: Friendster Announcement

 

Status: Deceased

Myspace

Founded in 2003, Myspace also pre-dates Twitter and Facebook, and it was once the largest social network in the world, even a few years into Facebook’s arrival on the scene. Its focus on music, in particular, endeared it to millions.

Having acquired it for more than $500 million in 2005, News Corp. offloaded the site in 2011 amid falling user numbers. Even through a change of ownership and focus, and with big-name stars such as Justin Timberlake taking a piece of the Myspace pie, it has never really recovered.

That said, as of last year, Myspace was still reporting 50 million visitors each month, and staggeringly it still had access to over 465 million email addresses in the U.S. alone, and more than a billion registered users globally. It was this vast pool of data that led the mighty Time Inc. to acquire Viant, Myspace’s owner, earlier this year. Myspace may still be alive, but it’s not really kicking and it’s being stripped for its parts.

Status: Alive (but not really kicking)

Hi5

Founded out of San Francisco in 2003, Hi5 launched around the same time as Myspace and Friendster, and was once a popular social network with some reports suggesting it was second only to Myspace as late as 2007.

But with the snowballing popularity of others in the realm, Hi5 shifted away from being a strict social network into more of a social online gaming platform, though it was later acquired by fellow social network Tagged in 2011. In 2014, Tagged rebranded as an app incubator called If(we), under which Hi5 and Tagged continue to operate.

Status: Alive

Orkut

Google never quite managed to nail the whole social networking thing, but it hasn’t been for the lack of trying. Besides Google+, the Internet giant also operated Orkut — named after its creator at Google Orkut Büyükkökten — from 2004 until 2014.

Orkut never attained mainstream global success, but it was hugely popular in Brazil where it was bigger than Facebook until 2012, while India also had a penchant for the service, with a smattering of users across other markets including the U.S., China, and Japan. But Google shuttered the service completely in 2014.

Status: Deceased

Bebo

Founded out of San Francisco in 2005 by husband-and-wife team Michael and Xochi Birch, Bebo was once bigger than Myspace in the U.K. and Ireland. It was purchased by AOL for a hefty $850 million in 2008, but as was typical of social network acquisitions at that time, things did not work out well.

Two years later, AOL offloaded Bebo for a measly $10 million to digital media investors Criterion Capital Partners. Bebo never recovered, and it later filed for bankruptcy before the Birches bought it back for $1 million in 2013 with a view towards reviving it.

Bebo kinda sorta returned in 2014 as a messaging app, but not much has happened with it since then. The Android app is still live, the iOS one isn’t, and Bebo.com is no more.

Status: Deceased

Tumblr

Founded out of New York in 2007, Tumblr was born at about the right time to capitalize on the new wave of social networking ushered in by the likes of Twitter and Facebook. And it came just as the smartphone revolution kicked into gear too.

Tumblr promised great things — it was a microblogging tool in essence similar to Twitter, but for longer-form content, though Tumblr also leaned heavily on visuals such as photos and GIFs. Yahoo snapped it up in 2013 for a little more than $1 billion, and the writing has been on the wall for Tumblr ever since — Yahoo has something of a track record of running its acquisitions into the ground. With Yahoo’s days numbered, and reports of it writing down the goodwill value of Tumblr, it’s not yet clear what the future holds for the social network. While it is still popular, the original buzz and excitement around Tumblr has diminished.

Status: Alive

Foursquare

Location-based social network Foursquare is one of the most-hyped startups to emerge out of New York in recent years, with founder Dennis Crowley gracing the covers of magazines, and $600 million valuations being thrown around at the height of its buzz back in 2010/2011.

Fast forward to 2014, and a relaunch saw Foursquare scythed down the middle into two separate apps — Foursquare was to be the Yelp-killing business discovery app, and Swarm the social check-in app to tell all your friends where you are and where you’ve been.

Back in January this year, Crowley stepped down as CEO, and the company announced a fresh $45 million funding round — with a reported valuation of $250 million. Foursquare is far from dead, but it is no longer the sexy upstart it was back in the day — it holds a significant amount of location data though, and it could prove a valuable acquisition for one of the big tech titans.

Status: Alive

Google+

Google launched Google+, its long-awaited all-conquering social network, in 2011 — the company’s fourth attempt after Orkut, Google Buzz, and Google Friend Connect. Though it garnered millions of “users,” Google+ never really took off in any meaningful way — unlike Facebook or Twitter which gained traction organically through incremental uptake and word-of-mouth, Google used its clout and existing traction to try to shoehorn its new social network into people’s lives. Google+ has often been praised for its design, features, and aesthetics, but ultimately people already had their social networks of choice and the market probably didn’t need another one.

One of the biggest issues among users was being forced into signing up to Google+ to perform certain tasks, such as comment on YouTube videos. Google wanted to make Google+ the social “glue” that connected its products — your single online identity. But people didn’t want that, and Google slowly started to stop forcing users to use a Google+ profile.

Google+ is still alive, and it may still find its place following a recent redesign, but Facebook and Twitter can rest easy for now.

Status: Alive

Path

Born in the heart of the smartphone revolution, Path could’ve been a contender — it took a different approach to conventional social networks with a mobile-first approach that limited the number of friends to 50. This was later raised to 150, before the limit was removed altogether. Indeed, Path was struggling for growth and clearly wasn’t fulfilling its early potential — potential that led the company to spurn a $100 million acquisition by Google.

Path now exists as two separate apps, and the company was acquired by Daum Kakao last year to focus on its existing community of users in Asia.

Status: Alive

The future of Twitter?

Twitter is often judged against the mighty Facebook, which claims around 1.5 billion MAUs. But that may be the wrong way of looking at things. Twitter is still ridiculously popular, even though it’s finding it hard to attain the same meteoric growth managed by Mark Zuckerberg. And that is the problem of having so many shareholders to appease — the expectations of a publicly trading company mean that the pressure is on to grow, and grow big.

But “infinite growth” isn’t the only metric to judge success. Twitter is still loved by millions — when you consider the many social networks that have risen and fallen over the past 10-15 years, Twitter is still standing tall. When people trying to circumvent a giant puddle becomes worldwide news, you know you have something special.

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