What happens when the content cloud descends? Rocket science or people science?
Here is a really simple metaphor to illustrate the pervasiveness and societal significance of Augmented Reality. For the past 20 years humanity has been ‘floating’ its content (its personas, its information, life data, economy and social media) creating a distant, electronic cloud drifting, conceptually, way up above us. A cloud that is only reachable when we area able to connect to it via a variety of fixed and mobile ‘information’ screens, themselves connected to a veritable wormhole aka the global internet. (In reality hundreds of thousands of servers murmuring around the world with billions connected via hard wiring to receive richer media & experiences).
Up until now this ‘content cloud’ (different to cloud computing) has been abstractly disconnected from our physical lives – we read news about California earthquakes sitting in Australia, we view videos on the train of a concert three weeks ago at a local venue, we have personal social networks fragmented across time and space, play a game set in Hong Kong on a screen in London, Facebook groups comprised of half friended, remote avatars (the extended self ). 99% of the content in the cloud is not relevant to here and now (although a philosophical moot point if the now ‘is’ the participation and consumption itself?!)
In a near AR future, non geo-sensitive content will be perceived as incomplete
But that cloud, has reached saturation, it no longer can keep afloat, there is just too much or rather just enough content to be temporally and geographically relevant. In other words there is so much ‘stuff’ up there that it now makes sense to access it, in a true Web 3.0 way, in real time, the present moment from anywhere you are. It will at its simplest level be Google Earth, slowly morphing out of your PC screen, growing to global scale and locking into place over the real world or Facebook mapping itself onto the billion users faces out in the street, advertisers reaching out to where ever you are, personalizing your everyday life with relevancy vs noise.
The always on cloud has now become very useful to a range of stakeholders. Marketeers, storytellers & users alike. Mists of information, media and experiences will engulf onto our cities and physical infrastructure, it will become a persistent fog that will coat everything in its path with layers of time and place stamped content. It will create a web of layers, of parallel narratives and realities and enhance our experiences.
OK fluffy intro over and this leads to some high level areas of a ‘consultancy’ whitepaper I did mid last year (which annoyingly I still can’t publish) but some key themes are explored below.
What does this mean on the ground, a ground covered in this fog of information. The transformative effect of our physical world being invaded by ‘cyberspace’ will make the current discussions about social network privacy seem like a children’s party. When the ‘web’ spreads into and permeates our real world will their be any hiding places. As portable screens become practical (think iPad with camera), pervasive wearable computing becomes commonplace and surveillance technology evolves to being ubiquitous and transparent – society will evolve way ahead of government and law, who powerless to stop the flow of information on connected screens will be even more powerless to stop this flow moving into real space?
“Augmented reality allows people to visualize cyberspace as an integral part of the physical world that surrounds them, effectively making the real world clickable and linked,” says Dr. Paul E. Jacobs, chairman and CEO of Qualcomm.
The videos below might give them ‘digital’ food for thought.
Beware: I would like to point out everything below has already happened or about to launch in the next few months.
FIRSTLY – RECENT VISIONS OF THE DESCENDING CLOUD
From Eyetap.org (a wearable computing lab in Toronto) – “Stewart Morgan discusses Architecture of Information on the show Daily Planet. It is a visionary short film showing augmented reality, and the implications of it’s applications.” From 2007
THE PERSONAL CLOUD
What kind of society will it be when our personal profiles, details and content are available to anyone in the street simply by scanning our face. That person across the train carriage, are they really playing an iPhone game or finding out ‘everything’ about you, well at least that which you have placed on the open web? A short video that will shock forward thinkers…
If RocketOn grows at its current rate it may be the follow-up to Twitter as a real time, web 3.0, animated avatar, 2D web integrated social application.
It will of course need much more sophisticated friend and group management and the following/followers paradigm would work wonders here. But no doubt the company have lots on the boil along these lines?
I have written for the past year or so about those half-way house virtual worlds, avatars that exist as a layer above the traditional, flat 2D web in posts here and here.
Leader of the pack of these ‘parallel’ virtual worlds (I still prefer layered btw!) by some way is San Francisco based RocketOn which now has 114 000 unique active users of the service that primarily operates as a browser plug-in. CEO Steve Hoffman has told me of some key developments that will lift the service firmly out of beta. First and foremost are six major new partners that will expose RocketOn to more than 2 million potential users.
RocketOn Launches Beta with Comedy.com, Hypster, Online Flash Games, Hotspot, faceDub and Boosh Magazine. Parallel Virtual World Platform Goes Live – “Imagine what it would be like if you could join a virtual world on your favorite site and interact with everyone on that site,” says Steven Hoffman, CEO of RocketOn. “And what if you could also take your same avatar to any other website and meet people there?” The result is a parallel virtual world that spans the entire Internet, where users rocket through cyberspace with their avatars and interact with virtual environments on any site they choose.
Having used RocketOn for some time on and off it reminds me of the web equivalent of the flash-mob – adhoc social gathering where you share brief experiences with others, ‘above’ web content, sometimes very compelling. It is fascinating too that there is a strong female demographic (67% in the US) suggesting parallel worlds being seen as (and used) as social vs ‘gamey’ space. More interesting in the stats is the high proportion of 12-34 year olds – often the ages where usage of social virtual worlds tends to dip. So RocketOn is definitely feeding on the traditional Facebook and MySpace network.
So the real time social element is best suited to comedy music, video and casual games where a live, real time’ness is key. Being able to call your friends together for activity and discussion around primary content in this way perhaps turns the back-channel (as in textual chatter) into the front-channel (where physicality comes into play). There is something about synchronous fun (and learning, there is a killer app hidden here for remote learning folks) over full screen video too – so RocketOn over full screen web video starts to remind me where IPTV was meant to be heading back in 2004! Participatory TV via the web back door anyone?
Here is the official press release that is going out today Feb 3rd
Parallel Virtual World Goes Live
SAN FRANCISCO, CA — February 2009 — RocketOn, Inc., a venture-funded startup located in South San Francisco, is rolling out its virtual world platform by embedding virtual worlds on partner sites. RocketOn’s partners range from comedy, music and game sites to community networking sites and college magazines.
“Our goal”, says Bryan Suchenski, partner manager, “is to build social interaction and community on our partners’ websites, thereby weaving a virtual environment into the very fabric of the Web.”
RocketOn has built a platform for easily embedding virtual worlds into partner sites, allowing their users to interact in real-time with one another. Every partner site is part of the overall community, and with the click of a button, users can take their avatars anywhere they like on the site.
“Imagine what it would be like if you could join a virtual world on your favorite site and interact with everyone on that site,” says Steven Hoffman, CEO of RocketOn. “And what if you could also take your same avatar to any other website and meet people there?”
The result is a parallel virtual world that spans the entire Internet, where users rocket through cyberspace with their avatars and interact with virtual environments on any site they choose.
“What caught our attention about RocketOn is the potential for a new type of real-time social interaction on our site,” says Cahit Onur, CEO of Online Flash Games. “We felt this would help build customer loyalty and extend our brand into the virtual world space. We’re happy to be working with RocketOn and are open minded about new projects and ideas.”
RocketOn is announcing six partners now, with more to come in the near future.
ROCKETON’S PARTNERS INCLUDE:
Comedy.com is one of the Web’s leading comedy sites. It combines the best collaborative filtering tools along with exclusive, original-themed content, best-of-the-best lists, and timely topical material. www.comedy.com Hypster is a music discovery site, offering Facebook, MySpace and Friendster users a personalized music player and playlists. www.hypster.com Online Flash Games is a popular Flash games community. www.onlineflashgames.org HotSpot is a community networking site to meet new friends, where users can store or share photos, create blogs, and share interests. www.98spot.com faceDub develops fun and easy software that allows users to insert their faces into any scenario. Boosh Magazine is the newest name in college entertainment. Boosh puts a unique twist on the whole ‘college magazine’ market and comes direct from a network of student columnists across the country. www.booshmagazine.com
RocketOn is a venture-funded startup that is pioneering parallel virtual worlds. Its management team has worked at top game publishers, including Sega Sammy (SGAMY) and Electronic Arts (ERTS).
What is Mixed Reality, why is it relevant and has TV become it’s background medium of choice for larger numbers of media consumers who around the world are spending more time in online pursuits than glued to the content breaks in-between the advertising slots of commercial TV. How will TV survive in a world where social and gaming worlds are far more compelling?
Latest video above available as a download (with better audio & creative commons) 50MB MP4 click here
I am up at the SPAA conference in the Gold Coast producing at and speaking on one of only two panels, for TV and Filmmakers, that are really focused on the ‘creative’ vs biz only possibilities of games and virtual worlds and (that oft misused term in these circles) New Media (that internet thang). The topic of our panel is “Where Virtual Worlds Meet TV, Where Films Meet Games” and features SilkCharm aka Laurel Papworth, Keren Flavell aka SL’s Starr Sonic (SLCN.tv)Â and truna a great games evangelist and IGDA leader hailing from Brisbane.
This topic is driven partly by a mass fragmentation and a paradoxical reversal of fortunes at the moment – where TV itself is the actual snacking medium and where the longer form immersion is in online communities, virtual worlds and games. But can the mediums truly cross-over?
I have been talking for a couple of years now about the fantastic potential of the live and by implication shared TV experience to be enhanced by extending the world into online games. Where are we and where might we be in a few years once the ‘broadcasters’ realise that keeping an audience involved in the ‘IP’/programme in-between airings is a good thing. Good for the story creators, the latent creative audience and of course advertisers who need eyeballs/hands/ears/minds. Some older Personalize posts on this topic.
Anthony Zuiker creatorof the CSI franchise was at one point going to join my panel and his perspective is critical in this:
“The advertising model for TV is completely broken top to bottom. I’ve lost 20% of my viewership in a year and a half… where are they? They’re on the web and other platforms.” Despite a “revolution” in television that now delivers some of the highest quality programming in the history of the medium…Zuiker believes that the “technological boom” happening concurrently is negatively impacting the popularity of the medium.
A part of the SPAA panel here on the Gold Coast, is looking at the issue of where TV and Virtual Space ‘will’ cross-over, not some wacky installation in a dark art gallery but a new emerging element of the entertainment industry where film and games are joined at the hip and TV and social virtual worlds work in glorious real time – live broadcast driving and linking to highly social environments, what Interactive TV has always tried to be. FYI here is the synopsis of my panel “Where Virtual Worlds Meet TV, Where Films Meet Games”.
“Which side of the wall are you on? Are you ready for the Mixed Reality, Entertainment Perfect Storm? TV and Film OR Games and Virtual Worlds? That wall is about to crumble. This is a wake up call to all entertainment producers and consumers to prepare for an almighty collision. Audiences are already spending up to four times as much of their entertainment time in virtual spaces than they are watching TV. Gary Hayes says “I think we are really approaching a perfect storm, a mixed reality perfect storm, because we are seeing several things happening. The first one is a long history of games based on TV and films. Another ‘wind’ is virtual worlds, particularly the exponential growth of customisable social spaces and the important ability to integrate external media into them. The third force is audience behaviour, who involved in far more simultaneous activity particularly between broadband web and TV. The fourth element to this perfect storm is actually what is happening to TV and film, such as live reality TV becoming more game like and now over 100 feature films in production based on game worlds. All of these forces together are creating a really potent mix that all producers need to be aware of”
What is Mixed Reality?
Mixed Reality is a term that needs a more focused definition, as I believe it is also misused. So I see Mixed (or Cross) Reality as
“a creative or social activity that takes place simultaneously in real and virtual worlds and where the interaction in each are resonant and dependent on each other”
So typical practical examples – a conference that has active audiences in the virtual and real world and both communicate seamlessly with each other or where a kids TV show is broadcast while children collaborate in a virtual world and appear to help the progression of the story or a film on a DVD with clues that as you watch it allow you to progress with other players in an online game. But there is also another key aspect of cross or mixed-reality, that of virtual “˜things’ appearing around us in real physical environments. This is often called “˜augmented reality’ but I believe it sits under the broader “˜mixed reality’ umbrella.
Some folk also call this form ‘blended entertainment’ – but to me that doesn’t specifically suggest virtual space and is more related to the already out-dated ‘cross-media’ RIP (hello – Social Media Entertainment) or Extended Entertainment, which is more in my Level 1 or 2 cross-media definition on Wikipedia.
About the Mixed Reality Compilation Video Above
I think the potential of this two-way flow is significant for education and business but also for entertainment and advertising/marketing. So I put together the short film above that hopefully captures a sense of where we are with this circa 2008. I wrote a rather rushed voice over for the short film, a kind of pretrospective (writing back from the future) looking at a “Dawning of Mixed Reality“. As well as my music and voice over (apologies, it was done at 1am a few days ago)Â it contains many choice clips trawled off YouTube but also quite a few that I have worked on at LAMP, the Format Factory, BBC and various other hats.
Is this reality? Is this fantasy? In 2008 the great transition truly began. Whereas a decade earlier we used to “˜log in’ to cyberspace, now we began to semi-permanently inhabit virtual space and the digital world started to leak out into everyday life. It began to infiltrate our shopping malls and became integrated with our everyday lives. Humanity started the relentless journey towards the natural future where virtuality became a greater reality,Â and where digital fantasy and organic reality were inextricably intertwined.
Through the early 2000s pervasive wearable computing started to break down the walls that used to separate our virtual existence from our physical one. This same technology also allowed us to embed ourselves seamlessly into virtual worlds which is where we could truly experiment with future forms of entertainment, art, education and business.
In these new places we became the real time, living celebrity. Many of us became avatar stars, pixel gods – exalted as those linear film and TV icons. This became the only place for many. By 2007 hardcore gamers were already spending fifty five hours per week “˜inside’ these shared worlds and learned to forgot about the real world. This became the place where their most meaningful hours were spent. Everyone began to blend the two domains, combining them in new ways, driven by an invisible urge. Thus started the global meshing, of today’s mixed reality.
But in 2009 questions were asked. As in the many films that hinted at our transhumanist future, would the physical embodied self ever become redundant? Would we truly evolve as self contained, digital entities? May we as well be slumped in a chair with a cable plugged into our heads? Regardless, as the real world became inhospitable we all started to crave for the immersion and began moving our physical selves into these spaces. Even more than that we wanted our peers our un-virtual audiences to be able to share our experiences there. It became a contagious as the most poignant moments and memories were the ones in virtual space.
But we needed to look beyond these screens and into our own souls. Find the truth written along the “˜thin white line’ that separates analog from digital, person from avatar. This was the beginning. It always was. As far as the meshing or blending of reality and virtuality, in 2009 they were the equivalent of grainy black and white movies seventy years earlier. Our experiences were simultaneously part real, part virtual but it didn’t matter which was which anymore. Both were valid and they depended on each other. Those early parallel existences of twenty years ago started to move humanity forward, released our imaginations and we coexisted with our precious and ultimately fragile, physical selves. The great crossing had begun.
I was particularly interested in several new developments that are allowing “˜minority report’esque’ eye-catching. holographic human figures into real space. You will spot these in the film, the live Telstra conference or the models trying on clothes in store windows and closed displays. I tried to list most of the items below and have copy paste some of the text that describes the videos. If there are others you think are significant or that I have missed, please comment and as I do with other compilation films I will be updating regularly, particularly on the download versions.
The various clips in the film are detailed below:
InLimbo Blended Reality – A.M. Architect sits In Limbo to converse and showcase their electronic music. Simultaneously to the broadcast, the show was recreated in the KRTU-Second Life complex, the audio streaming and photos of the studio dynamically updating
Metaversatility brings Frogg Marlowe (Jeremy Works) to TX for a couple blended reality music performances. Footage from Limelight in San Antonio & Mozart’s in Austin, for the Second Life TX Meetup, hosted by Metaversatility. metaversatility.com
A short 3 hour Mixed Reality Game I devised for a LAMP residential – called the Old Forest more details on UTube
Gizmondo Augmented Reality Game – Catapult. Please not this was never released it was in development when Gizmondo went under. There is no sound on this clip.
Motion Capture & Augmented Reality. Virtual Dancers Part 1- A good sign the tracking is okay is that all this has been obtained on the first test and with no feedback for me when I held the camera. In brief, as long as it is a bit smooth, the real-time tracking is okay.
Tim Johnson’s presentation was held at the Centre for Digital Media at Great Northern Way Campus – home of the Masters of Digital Media program. The event was simultaneously broadcast in Second Life at the school’s virtual world campus located at University Project.
A re-invisioning of a 1916 Italian Futurist film using Second Life Augmented Reality Technologies, being developed at Georgia Tech. The short film is a hybrid live action and machinima captured in real time. There are no use of Green Screens. Pos-production is not used to composite the Second Life image and live image.
Aussie talkshow host Rove McManus made history yesterday at Auckland’s Vector Arena as the first person to have his hologram beamed across the Tasman. Multiple cameras beamed his three-dimensional image from a studio in Melbourne to the paper-thin Auckland screen, accompanied by sound effects from Star Trek’s transporter beam, enabling McManus to have a live discussion with Telstra-Clear chief executive Allan Freeth.
2004 Video, computer, pneumatics. A stack of books sits in a chair and, on them, a monitor abuts a small table. The surface of the table holds water, forming a small rectangular pool in front of the monitor. The monitor depicts a woman’s face, her chin resting on her folded hands.
http://au.youtube.com/watch?v=Jd3-eiid-Uw – Using the infrared camera in the Wii remote and a head mounted sensor bar (two IR LEDs), you can accurately track the location of your head and render view dependent images on the screen. By Johnny Chung Lee, Carnegie Mellon University. For more information and software visit http://johnnylee.net
Larngear Technology’s story in the research and development, designing, and marketing of Mixed Reality technology is well describe and illustrated in the TV program Clickzone, supported by SIPA. The show is hosted by Tai, Chutima, from the movie Season Change.
More to come…
There are several companies around the world developing Cross-Reality forms. One that I am heavily involved with, The Format Factory, are pioneering formats that bridge the space between compelling participatory TV and online game worlds. This is a kind of teaser video I created that metaphorically demonstrates some of the ’embedded’ world-within-worlds. Their sister company The Project Factory have been doing some basic but interesting cross-overs in Second Life too.
I also talk in more detail about Mixed Reality potential in this early 2006 seminar, here are the slides from that one containing many cross-branded vs cross-reality examples.
I will leave the final word again to Mr ‘CSI’ Zuiker who instinctively points out that particpant audiences expect to be involved in the story, to be the hero, the villain and to feel they are partly in control of their own personalised route through it. Customisable and game worlds with existing culture are the best tool at film and TV makers disposal.
“In the gaming area, you want to give people tasks, to shoot things and upload pictures… You’re doing this because you want these people to be creating their own story and it will be part of the crime on the broadcast… Even if it’s not the actual thing I shot, I was part of that experience, that community, that narrative.”
PS: BTW I think the term ‘participatory audience’ used in the title of this post/article, is a bit of an oxymoron. Audience as a term suggests passivity not participation…but I am sure you will let me off for that one?! Please.