Sep 092008

A selection of mini posts I did in the last few weeks on the slightly 101 LAMP Watercooler blog

Will they Flock to Electric Sheep’s SVW Browser?

Interesting enterprise development from California based, Electric Sheep Company (notable for doing branded developments across virtual worlds like and Second Life) as well as cross-over, mixed reality gigs like the CSI-virtual world mash-up last year. They have developed Webflock, a easy to implement solution for any company/organisation to brand and deploy, as if any website, a social virtual world (svw) to allow ‘avatorial’ interaction, out-of-the-box so to speak. I expect we will soon be seeing a whole raft of open source, wordpress-like virtual worlds like this for you to use as your home-page (or should that be home-space) in the coming months. Their business model, until the open source stuff comes along, pay the early adopter enterprise price of $100k + .

WebFlock can help you realize your goals for a social, fun and immersive web presence. A basic implementation, which includes the out-of-the-box feature set, custom 3D avatars and 3D space, and 12 months of the application services fees, is available for under $100,000.

Every WebFlock implementation is separate and customizable, which gives companies the ability to control such things as user registration, quality of art content, monetization including advertising or micro-transactions, integration to other Web content or profile systems, and the overall user experience. The front-end is built entirely in Flash, which is already installed on 98% of the world’s Web browsers. ESC made the critical decision to work with Flash because of the barriers inherent in asking mainstream users to download software, whether desktop applications or custom browser plug-ins.

The core WebFlock application includes key virtual world features, such as chat filtering and muting, emotes, load-balancing for massive scalability, and Web-based metrics to be able to track usage. WebFlock 1.0 also includes a bundled social game and a premium live customer support feature. WebFlock can be customized with unique avatars, branded 3D spaces, and new interactivity such as casual games or scripted objects. It can also be integrated to a company’s existing art or game content, registration systems and other Web applications. WebFlock can reside on a single Web page or be syndicated across the Web.

WebFlock supports detailed usage tracking and performance metrics. The default reporting interface is Google Analytics, which allows customers to access results from any location with Internet access. ESC charges a monthly application services fee based on concurrent users, which covers access to the software, hosting, technical support and maintenance. Customization services, such as art creation, game design, or systems integration, are priced separately.

FaceSpooks – Your the star, be IN the movie

A hat tip to Dan Taylor over at BBC for pointing out this lovely little viral that allows you the passive, sit-on-the-couch-and-munch-crisps viewer (well fiddle with laptop) to be the star of Spooks. FaceSpook is a personalized video tool where your face is mapped onto a character in an action scene – and all via the web where the processing took around 1 minute. Here is my first attempt at sneaking into the top secret facility as agent ‘Gary Haye’ (yes limited to 9 characters I found out too late), a leading part of this mini story vignette.

Seems all major films and TV landmarks shows need their viral (above) but also an ARG to surround the show and extend the narrative, the story universe/world/environment. Spook’s ARG is Liberty News, yet another ‘set-in-the-future yarn – go here and check out 2013 now.

Back to the present, below some more stills from the above video which will expire in 3 months – hmmm very Mission Impossible 🙂 First my original face image and then some shots of the ‘very personalized’ video – now imagine this working for a 2 hour feature film at HiDef – bring it on baby ! 🙂

Multiple Places in the Multiverse

Seems you can’t turn your back on Social Virtual World development nowadays. A couple of weeks after I put out this video which covers ‘most’ of the major players along comes Multiverse Places. I suspect that the slow take up of multiverse engine as a ‘tool’ needed a little Linden pzzazz to get things moving. I notice they are promoting the Times Square area which has been around in Multiverse for over a year – but now with added ‘Social Networkness’, or something like that.

A revolutionary 3D virtual world that brings together the best of massively multiplayer online games and social networking sites. The beta release of Multiverse Places enables you to socialize in a visually-stunning Times Square environment through customizable avatars and integrated voice chat. In addition, you can customize your own apartment with images, music, and videos. Like social networking sites, you can learn about a person’s real-world interests and tastes by visiting their place (their apartment). In addition, you can also interact in real-time together.

Making the World(s) a Better Place – Virtual Worlds at Congress

To show how Social 3D Worlds are permeating the real world the first ever Congressional hearing on Virtual Worlds was run in April of this year. The then CEO of Linden Lab (Second Life) Philip Rosedale, testified before the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, basically telling them about the likely ‘influence’ that 3D Social Worlds will have moving forward. Here is a seven minute machinima that he presented as part of that talk – just released to the public from Blip.

To show how mixed reality is progressing too more about the simulcast in and out of second life below from America.Gov 🙂

The hearing was streamed live into a three-dimensional (3-D) model of the House hearing room in Second Life, and a gathering of in-world residents watched the proceedings from their seats. Massachusetts Democrat Representative Edward Markey, the subcommittee chairman, presided over both meetings — in person in Washington and as an avatar in Second Life.

“If we want to foster the best of what this medium has to offer,” Markey said, “we must consider the policies that will be conducive to such growth. These include upgrading our broadband infrastructure and speed, fostering openness and innovation in our Internet policies and ensuring that we bridge digital divides in our country so that all Americans can benefit.”

“The Second Life grid is the next step in the fulfillment of the Internet’s promise, where people create and consume content and interact with each other in a 3-D environment,” Rosedale, chief executive of Linden Lab, the company that runs Second Life, told the subcommittee.

“The potential for commerce, education, entertainment and other interaction in a 3-D environment filled with other people,” he added, “is far greater than in the flat and isolated two-dimensional world of the World Wide Web.”

What Mash-Ups are worth ‘Emailing’ About – Firefox Ubiquity

Found this great demo of a ‘semantically’ rich plug-in for Firefox which really suggest where we are headed when things ‘link’ together in a much more ‘human’ way. Enjoy.

Yes you can try it now, get the plug-in from this post…and a great get started tutorial from the Mozilla team.

Ubiquity for Firefox from Aza Raskin on Vimeo.

When Game Consoles Get Serious

I love my little black DS-Lite. It has made several global plane journey’s a lot more bearable with its cute ‘grind’ games, sims, racing, stories and good old brain trainer. I also do serious tech music too and of course have the full Logic/Reason/Live Macbook Pro rig as well as some cool ‘retro’ emulators like the ARP2600 that synch perfectly to the Logic master clock (ok too much detail). Back to the DS-lite. A toy right. Well no.

The guys at Korg and Nintendo got together with a couple of young Japanese design agencies and created something I had to have immediately – a fully featured Korg DS-10 emulator. It looks great on the black DS, a real in-your-pocket analog synth from the 80s – is that Tangerine Dream in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me? Not a toy a two oscillator, four drum track, 16 pattern sequencer and 21 song storage (thats basically 21 times 16 different 4/4 bar configurations) – complete with keyboard, kaos pad and more…so off to eBay, order from Japan and I wait patiently for the postman 🙂 After the embed XBox has some serious applications too..first check out this video and go here to VideoGamesBlogger, and click the video about half way down for a cool interview with its creators and a two DS live jam…

A lot of sites are reporting the new feature with XBox Live used for voting and recruitment around the world. BBC News reports in its item XBox Live in Youth Voting Drive about the online forums being used to garner views on politics from gamers as well as doing ‘test’ votes as part of the presidential ‘opinion polls’…

“To realise our goal of registering two million young Americans by this fall, we need to go where young Americans are,” said Heather Smith, executive director of Rock the Vote, in a statement. “There’s no doubt in our minds that many are on Xbox 360 and Xbox Live.”

Microsoft said that the Rock The Vote campaign to use Xbox Live would begin on 25 August.

In the past Rock The Vote has also worked with MySpace to encourage bands that promote their music via the social networking site to get fans to register to vote.

Through the partnership with Rock The Vote, Microsoft is also planning to have a presence at the Republican and Democrat party conventions to educate politicians about it and its members views.

See Emily Play – amazing CG ’emotional’ actress

At AFTRS LAMP we are very interested in Artificial Intelligence as the foundation of NPC or non player charaters. Once you have a good generative scripted character they can interact with ‘participants’ in cinematic games or virtual worlds and drive narrative by having real conversations. So students can also develop AI to automatically create emotional scenes on-the-fly, using generative scripts.

The only thing that would be missing therefore from a potentially completely self-generating film would be great text-to-speech and real time visual CG characters that had authent realism…Look at this and you tell me if you think we have come a long way from Polar Express in 3 or 4 years…Interestingly this is being sold as ‘a bridge across the uncanny valley’, in truth until this is real time we are just climbing up the other side, for now, See Emily Play…

and some background on the technology Image Metrics behind this…from a New York times article

The team at Image Metrics – which produced the animation for the Grand Theft Auto computer game – then recreated the gestures, movement by movement, in a model. The aim was to overcome the traditional difficulties of animating a human face, for instance that the skin looks too shiny, or that the movements are too symmetrical.

“Ninety per cent of the work is convincing people that the eyes are real,” Mike Starkenburg, chief operating officer of Image Metrics, said.

“The subtlety of the timing of eye movements is a big one. People also have a natural asymmetry – for instance, in the muscles in the side of their face. Those types of imperfections aren’t that significant but they are what makes people look real.”

and behind the scenes (sound is odd but visuals speak for themselves after 1.30 or so)

Nov 132005

Against all other research it seems that Nielsen and Nickelodeon have managed to pull out of the bag some figures (noted by the Progress Report) that shows kids are actually watching ‘more‘, yes more TV now than at anytime in the last 20 years! Excuse me while I dip my index finger and thumb in some salt 😉

Sixty nine percent of kids 6-14 have TVs in their bedrooms, according to the network’s “U.S. Multicultural Kids Study 2005.” That’s compared to 49% who have videogame systems in their bedrooms, 46% who have VCRs, 37% who have DVD players, 35% who have cable or satellite TV service, 24% who have PCs and 18% who have Internet access.
“Kids rooms are becoming kind of like mini-media centers,” said Nick’s Senior VP of Audience Research Ron Geraci.
The high percentage of TVs in kids bedrooms comes at a time when Nielsen is reporting the highest levels of TV viewing among kids in more than 20 years. Through Oct. 9, 2005, kids aged 6-11 watched 23 hours and 3 minutes a week, according to Nielsen. That’s compared to 21 hours and 18 minutes in 1992.

OK so what we have here is kids coming into their rooms. First thing they do is switch on the TV and then go and do something else. The TV I suggest is the new radio, as ambient as an air-conditioner, and occassionally glanced at across the room then the teenagers get back to IM, SMS, blogging, broadband browsing and so on. Just a hunch. Now could this be the new way Nielsen are measuring TV watching, with the wonderful people meters? If the TV is on then of course people are staring intently at the screen absorbing all those ads. Wired reported back in April that there were big changes happening in TV measurement circles.

Nielsen plays a unique, but hugely important, role in the broadcast media business. Advertisers decide where to spend money by figuring out which groups of people are watching which shows. For example, beer companies and carmakers salivate over young men in their 20s and 30s. These advertisers use the Nielsen service to find the shows that attract this group. Likewise, TV programming executives get paid, promoted or fired based in large part on how their shows fare in the Nielsen ratings. The New York company holds tremendous power.

and we all know what power does to people don’t we.

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005

Nov 122005

Monument Valley ©Gary Hayes 2005Sorry for the gap in posts, been finding out how and why Australia’s media landscape is the way it is at this years inaugural ACMA (Australian Communications and Media Authority) conference in Canberra. Will post some of my thoughts about it over next few days – needless to say not a bed of roses. Before that though a few catch-up posts. It is always useful to get some real research in-between the hype of new trends. TV and other video content on mobile phones is a key one at the moment and this report from mobinet across 4000 users in UK and 20 other countries suggests this may also not be a bed of roses, in fact demand is very low. The article “Splash of cold water on mobile media” in media life points out

The question is, what will they download? The answer, hardly a surprise, is news. Far fewer will download entertainment.
Further, the U.S. market for downloadable TV is likely to remain tiny for many years, with relatively few cell phone users bothering to take advantage of the feature. As in so many areas of media, the fact that a technology exists to do something doesn’t mean consumers will rush to adopt it. In the case of downloadable TV, they will not.(snip)
The study found that cell phone subscribers in North America were the least interested in TV content. Only 6 percent said they’re willing to pay to download TV clips.

I never suspected the US to be leading in this field – they rarely do, it is often small pockets in Europe or Asia that lead consumer trends in emerging media and the US and Australia tend to lag but follow with new business models and then say they started the trend (ready for flames ;-). The low demand though for mobile downloads may come as a surprise to my many tens of readers but the article does go on to say that downloading shows out of schedule may be undesired but timely news and sports are still in with a fighting chance.

Among all those surveyed, 49 percent said their first choice would be news clips. Sports came in a distant second at 17 percent. Entertainment followed, with music videos at 16 percent, movies, 9 percent, and TV soap operas and reality shows, 8 percent.
“The thing that you need for wireless is content that is time-sensitive,” says Ranjan Mishra, principal of the communications and media practice at A.T. Kearney.
“If you can wait until you reach your office or home, you are most likely not going to watch it on a cell phone. That’s why the applications that are time-sensitive, like news and sports, fit very well. There is a value to that.”
Robert Rosenberg, president of Insight Research in Boonton, N.J., agrees.
“This is an adjunct to a television news service. I find it curious that anyone would want to watch a television clip that doesn’t have a real-time value to it. A sports broadcast I can understand.”

So a bit like the early days of interactive TV where the first service I made was in fact a timely 1000 pages of news, graphics surrounding the TV service – a dip in, dip out, get the updates and go, type service. Seems this will be the same on mobiles for the first few years. Sport will always be a big driver across all ‘interactive’ platforms, because there is often so much back-story (stats, gossip, prediction) that you need to contextualise the experience. There still needs to be work done now though in documentary, entertainment and drama for mobile delivery that breaks the current trend to just download a whole episode of a TV show. It really bugs me when people wander round showing off an episode of ‘Desperate Housewives’ on a mobile phone or PSP. Really bugs me. Reminds me of those sort of people in the 80/90s who used to show me how their laptop could play a CD/DVD disc, or how their PDA could play a violent animation – wow, clever stuff. Engaging, not. We need to create innovative new form services that cross platforms and engage, the mobile phone is only one part of the jigsaw. There may be some time left yet though:

Still, the advent of TV shows on iPods and new video-on-demand services from CBS and NBC suggest that the market may be ripening for cell phone services to offer downloadable television clips and commercials.
Moreover, the number of cell phone subscribers using non-voice features is dramatically increasing. Mobinet found that 48 percent of subscribers in this country, versus 53 percent worldwide, now have third-generation phones with multimedia capabilities such as internet access and cameras. That is up from only 37 percent last year, when penetration in the U.S. trailed the global average by 12 points.

Emerging media creatives need to get ahead of those who will disenfranchise the market by simply dumping the same content that we get on broadband, TV, DVD, video across to mobiles. Demand will only be as strong as the perceived experience users will expect – here is the simplest analogy “Would you expect people to buy bottles of tap water?” – I suspect maybe there will still be a crazy 8% who would, but I hope you get my point.

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005