The XR Guild FAQ
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Does it Exist?
Please read the previous article to hopefully answer why “The Metaverse” needs shared ethical principles, and why socializing them among the many XR builders out there is the most straightforward (but not the only) way to ensure an ethical result.
Our official purpose:
The XR Guild is dedicated to the ethical development of XR (AR, VR), Spatial Computing, Metaverse, Web3 (or other popular names that may arise) for the collective benefit of humanity.
Our membership consists of professionals in these related fields at various levels of experience who demonstrate their commitment to our common ethical principles, and who contribute to the community through explorations on XR ethics and publications of valuable thought leadership, mentorship of individuals in this field, and networking of individuals and job resources across the field.
Please note: Our official public launch will be in June. People joining early are encouraged to help out with the launch.
Why a Guild?
Historically, a Guild is an organized group of tradespeople that come together for some shared purpose. Some early guilds were more about gatekeeping, with official levels of mastery for skills, including a system of apprentices, and a closed process for who is allowed to do business.
Some Guilds today focus on collective bargaining, much like unions, establishing rules around working conditions, credit and compensation.
Newer less-formal guilds, as we might find on Discord or multiplayer games, may simply build communities around common goals, short and long-term.
We debated many different names and structures and collectively liked the historical implication of a simple trade association, a group that acts without any official industry power, but has broad influence for its ideals.
Why Isn’t it a DAO?
We debated establishing first as a DAO and we may consider that again when the legal and voting structures for DAOs are better established, and especially when wallets are more secure and user-friendly than today.
We want to do everything as democratically as possible, meaning one vote per registered member (not one vote per coin or other monetary value). We will vote on updates to the principles, electing new directors, for any public commentary and more. For us, that often means 75% approval vs. simple majority rule.
What is this XR Guild Exactly?
We are legally incorporated as XR Guild, Inc. — a Public Benefit Corporation of California — a non-profit tax-exempt charity [IRS 501(c)(3)/U03.]
In a nutshell, we are a public service organization focused on developing and promoting ethical principles in XR for professionals and for everyone’s mutual benefit: customers, children, companies, builders, investors and influencers.
We leave it for each member to decide if they are a “professional.” The only membership criteria is 1) being human and 2) agreeing to a core set of ethical principles, which all members can continue to debate and amend as needed.
Non-members can potentially benefit from a clearly reasoned set of principles to use in their daily work. We may collaboratively write and publish position papers or put out videos about relevant ethical issues to help inform debate. Decision-makers inside various companies can use these principles as a guide in informing their product-related choices. Even just talking about principles is better than not considering it at all.
We also wish to “pay it forward” by having our more experienced members help mentor other members, some of whom may be just starting out, and connect everyone to resources and opportunities. We will not have “levels of mastery” or other barriers to entry.
As an officially tax-exempt charity, we are not chartered to perform collective bargaining (i.e., not a union), lobby Congress (i.e., not a lobbyist or think tank), nor establish industry technical standards.
Why Do We Need a New Group?
There are organizations in XR already working for a variety of noteworthy goals, such as building community, developing standards and regulatory policy, fostering mentoring, finding jobs, promoting safety and diversity equity and inclusion, or other forms of social good. Some groups have already taken up the challenge of debating and publishing ethical guides.
These groups are widely-respected and remain important to the ecosystem. Many of us belong to them and help them as well. The more, the better.
And more importantly, the more people get involved, the better. So if all we accomplish is increasing the number of people interested in this important topic, then we all do better. But we think we can do even more by taking a fairly unique approach.
What makes us Different?
One thing that makes the XR Guild different from most groups is that we want to demonstrate that money can be kept separate from ethical debates. We understand that people who work on policy for a living need to raise money from a lot of sources to support their work. But when groups seek corporate sponsorship and contracts and they need to keep those companies happy, that may affect their actions (see Ethics Washing).
So to minimize this effect, the XR Guild will neither accept corporate donations nor allow corporate membership. We intend to remain small, all-volunteer, without full-time staff or extensive budgets. We’ll focus on doing the greatest good for the least money, while leaving no people behind.
Even when money is not the driver, other groups take the approach of “saying only nice things,” which is totally understandable in any cordial ecosystem. Constructive criticism is hard, especially in public, but it is required for a robust public discourse. The XR Guild may occasionally criticize or warn of certain practices in the form of position papers and videos (approved by at least 75% of the registered membership) as needed. We intend to be very considered vs. tweeting out “hot takes” for attention.
We are also working to ensure that Guild members, especially those working inside the biggest XR companies, are not negatively impacted by our work. Our goal is that we may gradually increase the ethical dialog inside and outside of any corporate walls, such that it’s a normal part of development.
You can think of us as missionaries embedded across the field with a purely ethical mission and a goal to make XR a positive force for everyone.
Who Should Join?
Every person working in XR is welcome, whether you do it for the love, work hard in secret inside a giant corporation or lab, or are even the CEO of a company yourself. At the end of the day, we want this to be a group of professionals that represents the entire field. Even the term “professional” is something we leave to each person to decide.
We will judge and only judge people based on their acceptance and adherence to our published principles. We work hard to make the Guild a safe and comfortable space for everyone, ideally free of toxicity and rampant self-promotion. We’ve adopted the W3C’s excellent Code of Ethics and Personal Conduct as part of our core principles.
Note: Our official launch is planned for June. People joining early are encouraged to help out with the launch.
We value a rich diversity of ideas and backgrounds. Every group generally says “everyone is welcome.” But even still, people from marginalized backgrounds may legitimately feel excluded, unsafe, or unrepresented inside many groups. We have to do more than just be welcoming. We need for everyone to have and be able to share positive experiences here. And for us to be most representative of the community, we need to listen to what everyone needs, not just any given majority. We don’t have all the answers, but we want to get it right. And whenever we learn of something else we can do to help, we will do so without regret.
Who is in the Guild?
As of April 2022, we are still in “administrative mode,” gearing up for a public launch in June. So we have a small crew of people who are helping to get our systems up and running: website, checking account, legal filings and more. Currently the board of directors is there to help kickstart things and then settle into the background. Right now that’s Avi Bar-Zeev, Evo Heyning, and Damon Hernandez, with Holly Hirzel serving as Treasurer/CFO. We have room for four more board members to elect this year.
We have also had the privilege of getting help from some great advisors and early Discord members. This includes Tony Parisi, Amy Peck, Kent Bye, Amy LaMeyer, Jan-Erik Vinje, Andreea Ion Cojocaru, Brandel Zachernuk, Helen Papagiannis, Lex Dreitser, Valencia James, Brian Wassom, Christine Perey, Dave Lorenzini, Jessica Outlaw, Philip Rosedale, Tish Shute, Gray Crawford, Nova (technobaboo), Keiichi Matsuda, Jean Prytyskacz, Keram Malicki-Sanchez, Jasmine Roberts, Wade Tinney, Nicole Lazarro, Ben Erwin, Ori Inbar, Silka Sietsma, Ryan Schultz, Reginé Gilbert, Karan Ganesan, Joanna Popper, and more.
The doors will soon open to everyone for full membership. We thank the early advisors for their thoughtful contributions in getting us to this point.
How does The Guild work?
Most people will first visit our Discord server and look around. Feel free to contribute anywhere or just ask questions. When you’re ready to join, you’d just type “/apply” to invoke our custom XRGuildBot helper agent, which asks you to read and accept the 12 principles in a direct message thread. You can also visit our Twitter community, but it doesn’t have the bot or the other resources yet.
The Bot asks you to introduce yourself on the Discord channel named for that, if you haven’t already done so. Tell us what you’ve done in XR or hope to do. It’s ok to brag here.
Then privately provide us with your contact information to make the membership and voting rights official. We won’t share membership details unless compelled by law. We support pseudonyms within the Discord, but we are required to keep an accurate membership roll so that every voting member can be notified of critical votes, like elections.
We are legally organized as a tax-exempt non-profit-with-membership 501(3)(C), establishing a small board of directors (≤7) plus several administrative officers, all volunteer. The officers are hired and fired by the board. The board elections and just about everything else of importance is decided by the registered members.
Some things require a majority vote, but many decisions require 75% of all cast votes. Voting requires a quorum and proper notice to keep it most fair.
Are there any Dues to Pay or Tokens to Buy?
We don’t require any annual dues, but ask members and other individuals to donate what they can each year to offset our routine expenses, legal etc… We’re a non-profit tax-exempt charity. There are no tokens to buy either.
We’re 100% volunteer, no paid staff. Our expenses will run anywhere from a few thousand per year for basic operational/legal expenses, up to maybe $50k if we want to do much more, including sponsorship and free events. But we have no plans to go any higher than that.
Are there Any Other Requirements for Members?
We ask members to commit some amount of time monthly, perhaps an hour, perhaps five, to help the guild or its members via mentoring, volunteer work on the website, 3D spaces, library curation, improving our principles, and more.
Members and non-members can discuss on the Discord, Twitter Communities, or via a monthly published newsletter as desired.
Once a year we will hold our annual meeting to elect board members, update the rules and procedures as needed. We’ll hold more frequent on-line and IRL meetings during the year to debate and document more ethical questions, improvements to the principles and more. We are planning for a face-to-face member meetup at the AWE event in June, from 7–9am on the first day (6/1). And an open panel for all AWE attendees at 5:05PM that same day.
One of the biggest benefits to being in the Guild is access to very thoughtful professionals who value the same.
What is “Ethics Washing?”
No company ever says: “Being ethical hurts the bottom line. So we just won’t.”
Some companies seem to want the benefits of seeming ethical without the associated costs or changes to their products or procedures. They may pay for small studies and talk about ethics, but they rarely follow through or seem to care, even when there’s a public backlash to their decisions.
Ethics or Privacy Washing is when some less ethical companies fund more reputable groups to in effect limit the extent of public concerns and make the company seem better than it is. It’s like money laundering but for reputations.
[Here is an interesting conversation between Kent Bye and Dr. Sally Applin and Dr. Catherine Flick (two researchers studying this space) reviewing Meta’s adherence to their published “Responsible Innovation Principles.” You can decide for yourselves.]
Can Employees in Big Companies Promote Ethics Too?
Certainly. We find working inside big companies many individuals who care deeply about being ethical and responsible. They might have taken the job with the idea that each person can truly make a difference, and collectively do more. And if such people never join big companies, the bar goes way down.
Indeed they can do good, especially with support from their peers. But they may also find that the business model of their company has other demands (such as pervasive spying on consumers to improve ad-tech revenue).
The company may reward people who make it more money or retain more customers vs. the people who act more ethically, if the company doesn’t take into account the true costs and benefits (the “externalities”). It will also tend to “ethics wash” internally to help employees feel they’re only ever helping society and never doing harm, creating a kind of “kool aid” culture.
There are two things that can keep a company in check internally. First is more vigilant employees who speak up when the company isn’t living up to its own promises. By raising concerns early in the design process, they can remind the company of what it has already promised to do and very likely course-correct. These people need peer support.
Second is that ethics can be incorporated into the operating principles of a company. We find that companies self-imposing limits on their own behavior often comes only after a fuller realization of the real cost of violating such principles: e.g., losing consumers, losing trust or losing money in lawsuits or future business.
Externally enforced requirements come through political and legal processes, which can be informed by heroic whistleblower employees, protected by law. We do not seek to add or subtract from that existing process but offer alternatives that are more voluntary and come earlier in the cycle.
Come visit our Discord to ask additional questions.