Web 3.0

 Posted by on August 27, 2006 at 10:12 pm  Add comments

I have posted prolifically about MUVE’S (Multi User Virtual Environments) in the past, concentrating mainly on the ever customisable Second Life. It is interesting to watch the buzz spreading and consider if virtual worlds are really web 3.0, I think so. A quick look at the evolution of the intraweb from the mid 90’s. From text and graphics dominate 2D environments, immersive web sites with flash quickly followed combined with ubiquitous communication via IM and IRC chat. Then the early 00’s with the expontential growth of self publishing, blogs and wikis. From 2002 onwards the massive sharing social network communities of flickr and YouTube in sync with the explosion of portals containing all of the above in services such as MySpace, Yahoo and MSN etc: We are heading towards a rich media personal hub that points to and houses all of our ‘shareable’ content. But the current 2D web, mostly linear to linear linking, is about to be enhanced by virtual environments in which we meet as avatars, interact as 3D moving objects that takes sharing, co-creation and communication to the next, predictable level. The important component here is real time collaboration and communication as the paradigm shift.
Web 1.0 to 3.0

Web X.0. To me evolution of the web can be defined in single sentences:

    1.0 the pushed, one way only web
    2.0 the two-way shared web
    3.0 the real time collaborative web (3D, isometric or just 2D)

A sign that this is reaching a level of maturity is when big brands and subscriber numbers start to escalate. This item entitled Second Life Targets Existing Branded Web Communities succinctly sums up some of the major changes in one MUVE.

Major companies such as Major League Baseball, and institutions such as The University of Southern California, have already turned to Second Life to host virtual events synched with live real-world events. Organizations such as the New Media Consortium are using Second Life to convene meetings and conferences. Wells Fargo is teaching kids about finance in an engaging manner through Second Life. Clothing designers are using the community to prototype their designs and get community feedback and build buzz before they have to manufacture.

In 2 years time will the most effective way of communicating be through a variety of MUVEs rather than 2D web? As Second Life subscribers go above half a million, from less than 100 thousand less than 6 months ago one can see other players beside Linden Labs taking part of the action. Here are the Second Life stats from yesterday to give some idea of the scale

Statistics from 3:20pm Saturday 26 Aug 2006
Total Residents: 568,856
Logged In Last 60 Days: 256,425
Online Now: 8,369
US$ Spent Last 24 Hrs: 357,140

Many of the projects we are doing in LAMP start from a position of ‘experience design’ that has its ultimate incarnation in letting the users ‘live’ the story. Personalizable MUVE’s will shortly have real potential to enable any experience requirement you can throw at it. As the gaming generation take up lead roles in society (the average age of a Second Lifer is 32) I really believe that remote communication will exist more and more in virtual worlds. Entertainment, education and business is already taking root. The article continues by even pointing to the political engagement these environments afford…

Imagine a wiki-based web community now being able to collaboratively design detailed 3-dimensional objects, complete with nuanced permissions, instead of just text documents. …Imagine a dark horse political candidate with a virtual campaign headquarters in which campaign volunteers can collaborate regardless of geographic location and be trained personally by the avatars of real campaign staff, and where the candidate can conduct a virtual whistlestop tour to test new stump speeches and conversations with highly educated, affluent, and socially networked focus groups

Current MUVE’s do require decent computers, graphics and bandwidth but many millions of terminals are already capable. There are many posts that talk about a ten year from now predication of what a Virtual World may be, many not looking too deeply into the ethical or moral issues as that really is an unknown as this quickly cobbled together chart above suggests I think we are lucky to be at the dawning of ubiquitous MUVE’s across all devices (mobile devices are part of distribution in this context – not a movement in itself). The next challenge as I always point out is interoperability – how our personalized digital fingerprint can exist across an ever growing range of portals. To put it another way using the present day, can out MySpace profile work with our Second Life avatar, our flickr and YouTube accounts. Will our eBay positive rating be carried into World of Warcraft, can Amazon engines learn what we are buying in Second Life to recommend things to buy from eBay and so on. The brand and advertising targeting potential goes off the scale here. The first company that comes up with a profile engine that combines all of the above, sits above them, cross-relates them but needs to get started right now before it becomes way too complicated 😉

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2006

Jun 242006

Will the ‘Avatar Based Marketing’ initiatives be a tsunami that will break down the fourth wall of Second Life for most, and in the process end the growth of premium subscribers many who use the world for other things besides doing enhanced duplicates of their first lives.

The shared virtual online world Second Life is at a crucial time in its life. On one hand it is going through obvious expansion pains, falling down technically and regularly, with weekly 50MB updates and on the other hand the dropping of the metaphoric castle drawbridge and its approach to allow anyone and everyone to join without ID (one that has forced Snapzilla a SL flickr to protest by going offline). The other main area of expansion though that could truly prove its demise is to allow unfettered influence from real world marketing. The panel (in-world last night) that looked at marketing and advertising in Second Life actually occurred when most people in Australia were in bed but I took a look at the transcript on Brands in Games just now and was quite dismayed.

Most of the discussion was about brand, advertising, getting virtual eyeballs on your product and selling Real World items off the back of SL exposure. Business, business, business – how to use the world to get most impact. Not one suggestion that perhaps many people use Second Life to escape from the endless blitzkrieg of brand pushing in the real world. The reason World of Warcraft is so successful is that it is one place you can get away from the endless advertising that we see in the real world. We know that commercial free to air tv is more and more irrelevant to young people (see my post Ambient TV, Immersive MMORPG) – because it adopts a one to many approach, broadcasting bland generalistic ads that only resonate with an aging audience. Young people need to play, be social, be immersed and certainly have personalized targeted brand experiences (as I have mentioned in many posts before) on their terms. Second Life has an important decision, be driven by corporate business or large numbers of users paying smaller amounts and who have more to do. To simplify – 5 times $10 million is the same as 10 million times $5.

There was a suggestion in the talk that Second Life’s growth may now actually depend on the big brands to support it and move it forward – the advertising sponsored virtual world. This would work in a free-to-join environment BUT there are two classes of citizens in SL and if a commercially-funded-free-to-join policy is adopted perhaps Linden Labs could consider paying back all those on premium accounts – or at least taking away the tiers many have paid to get LLabs to where it is at the moment. Here are some quotes that reinforce the above’¦

Hamlet Au: I think Second Life has long passed the days where it was a hothouse utopia where any hint of the outside world, especially the corporate for-profit world, causes much of a ripple. Now the challenge is to create cool, lasting, *exciting* experiences’”and the companies are competing on an equal level with the best creators in SL.

Yes Hamlet forget the many new entrants to SL are escaping from commercial TV and real world malls. The only real suggestion to keep mainland SL free from RL influence was to make sure that they stay on Islands and invite people to their wonderful interactive, brand-washing experiences.

Cristiano Midnight: Well, to expand on what Tony said, I do think that each environment is different and more or less viable for various reasons ‘– SL,

Jun 132006

© Gary Hayes 2006Give people very simple and highly social tools for producing and creatively sharing content and truly inventive things will happen. In a growing ‘easy to publish’ movement the current user generated, digital personalized content explosion will continue indefinitely – the creative big bang. A digital stills or video camera and a computer in the right hands has already demonstrated wonderful things can happen. Give anyone a pen and paper and a thousand works can be produced, books, comics, sketches, screenplays, personal letters, song lyrics and so on. Give them a simple way (blogger, wordpress etc) to publish their thoughts, opinions and journals onto the interweb and we end up with 44 million blogs and rising. Give them a place like Flickr to store, tag and share their digital photos and as well as a billion images, covering the state of the planet, we also find something the creators never thought of or intended – endless mashups, games and interconnections between users content. In fact the simpler the tool set, the more people can play with it, create their own rules and more importantly extend the environment. Most so-called interactive services or console games suffer from the been-there-done-that moment when the ‘story world’ is exhausted as I mentioned a couple of posts ago. Even some of the RPG online games suffer from this in that you have rule sets, repetition and actions you ‘have’ to perform to continue or rise up the ranks, whatever is your preference – this constraint hinders creative production. So what do you do when you get given a completely new world where the narrative and rules are unlimited?

To answer that question here are some of my current, initial thoughts on being creative inside Second Life. A few have referred to this world now as the future of the internet – in that the 2D website will be replaced by a 3D space not disimilar to what is evolving here. That may well be true, in which case all the creativity we see on the web at the moment will morph into a cluster of shared 3D spaces. I will look in a moment though at photography, filming, creating games and original art inside SL but first what are the majority of the now quarter of a million residents up to? Most have unsurprisingly brought key elements of the real world with them – the three way street of money, socialising and sex. I differentiate the last two because there are only around 10-20 thousand involved in virtual sex – according to the purveyors of the various bits of ‘equipment’ you need to buy. I do feel most though use the world as a place to meet their peers or just as a ‘cute’ way to communicate (an alternative IM or chat room – see Tony’s comments a few posts ago). Of course there are those who are only after making a buck or two, selling clothes, gadgets, buildings and anything else that can be bought on the ‘outside’. For many, judging by the endless malls and classifieds, it is a place to hang and watch the tens of dollars trickle in, for a few it is a real income which means they really have given up the day job. Hats off to them, but not original.

I think many in the world also use Second Life as a means to live the life they never will be able to – the nice house, alternate (sometimes deviant) lifestyle and all the trappings in a nice, like-minded neighbourhood. But what else apart from money, socialising and sex? Is there anything really unique being created rather than cute representations of the real world – sure there are wonderful themed gardens and coastal scenes – but like the scene in the film Contact where Jodie Foster was told (I paraphrase) – “we did it this way so as not to scare you” when referring to how a higher race may communicate with us, by taking us to a familiar, pleasant environment. But what about the unqiue and higher art forms, photography, film, games, sculpture, art, literature, mash-ups and music? I talk about the first four here from a ‘producing-it’ perspective but will get to the last four in a future post.

I have been dabbling, like a few others, with ‘finer art’ photography, filming (machinima) and attending a few lectures. I have also been playing with scripting music and ai type 3D graphics motion but early days yet. I have seen some very nice original art pieces that are enabled by the very basic 3D tools you get as standard but only a handful of people are creating the truly original works. But what about photography? Well it is relatively straightforward to screen capture the world in second life, a what- you-see-is-what-you-get digital photography equivalent. But to produce anything of a higher standard, like real photography, you need to spend time. Not as much as filming of course, but devote time and effort. I have done a few trial shoots (images scattered in this post – Anya above) and found that all the same rules apply as to a real shoot – I have done quite a few professional real life photo shoots on and off over the years. You have to find willing subjects who take direction, you need good clothes, you need to use special lighting and find great locations with suitable environmental elements. Then there are the unlimited poses for the avatars (yes it is sometimes easy to forget when you are in the middle of shoot that these are just 3D graphic models). Then there are the endless expressions and props you have to manage.

©Gary Hayes 2006Finally your photographic sensibility and aesthetic have to be utilised. Composition is critical in a world of unlimited depth of field – the angle of view, elements in the scene and overall colour ranges. These things apply to filming but then you have consider many more things such as animation, moving camera and filmic narrative which complicates things even further – more later. Photography is a very social thing in this world as to achieve good results the communication between avatars (and their puppet masters) is crucial. Just using chat or IM slows things down, one where you are in control of the subject is obviously better but most social, would be to use voice or skype during the session. The key point I am trying to make here is that to produce anything of aesthetic value you need to put in the hours – like the real world it requires dedication. The real world of CG animation likewise requires true dedication shuffling those millions of pixels around, you have full control, but also unlimited variables and possibility – an major effort in filtering and selection.

©Gary Hayes 2006This leads onto making machinima in Second Life – but which applies to any games engine filming. Firstly the story. OK this goes without saying but many machinima narratives have often been constrained or certainly curtailed due to the limitations of the medium. The best stories are the ones that play to the strengths of this medium and like my earlier post on ARGs in Second Life, use narratives that are rooted in the environment. There is a group in second life called alt-zoom that are pioneering filmmaking in this environment and a few friends are also pushing the envelope. Kronos (aka David) is, like me, learning the tricks of the tools and I will do a post later about the more craft/tech side of lighting, frame rates, colour balance, capture settings etc:. The technical side of capturing the real time ‘play’ is relatively straightforward as is the set building (which is a breeze and pleasure here). What is not so easy is the cinematography and the quality of the character animation and facial expression. Using a locked off or auto tracking camera is not so bad but to try and create scripted camera motion takes a serious amount of time especially when trying to achieve synchronicity with the actors – I will call avatars, actors from now on.

©GAry Hayes 2006There are limited sets of animations for the actors and the facial expressions have a long way to go (many are garish) so for now I tend to favour a more subtle approach and use head motion rather than theatrical, comedic standard actions. You can of course create your own poses and anims in tools like poser and import them and that is the only way for bespoke filmmaking in this environment. I am also trying to pioneer live filming in second life. Using a games controller it is feasible (still working on it) to have full 360 degree control over the positioning of the camera in real time, making slow crane shots or unique tracking shots much easier. This then makes the whole process more realistic, especially if your actors are improvising and are in control in real time of each of their animation suite. In fact this really gives second life an advantage over CG produced or games console based machinima in that the whole process starts to match a real shoot. I have included a couple of stills from a test shoot I have just done on this page also. A final ambitious goal for me at least is to try to do a multi camera shoot of the real time scenes – in otherwords you could have ten or more people logged in with three doing a real time three camera shoot while the other seven take the directorial, set design and acting roles. Check posts for updates on this.

As a slight tangent and following on from my earlier post on ARG’s in the world it was interesting pick up on a range of intitiatives set-up by Linden Labs (the world creators) to try to stimulate more, social games in the environment. The SecondCast podcast crew talked about a few on a recent episode called “To the Zoo”. It was no surprise that they also agreed that the less technology in the game, and the more that it involves social interplay and uses the worlds grammar, the more compelling it was. So they reviewed the in-game, games The Collective, SLictionary, Tech Warfare, Boogie Board, Danger Zone, Dark Life, Castle Wars and Blocks SL. The Collective went someway to using the world for the core of its game play narrative in that it required you to ‘experience’ as much as possible to accrue points towards a final play-off – so just saying hi to new people or going to new places was enough to take part in the game and it encouraged more than what most people do in the world. The one that garnered most social interplay was SLictionary. Yes more or less Pictionary, but in SL you a required to build (using tools that most experienced SL’ers are familiar with) objects and everyone has to guess what it is. Sounds simple and yes it was, but most time was spent on it. OK not quite an ARG but I will be playing it soon as it sounded like great fun. In the almost ARG domain there was also Mata Hari that has been covered by Anya, which really was a word puzzle game wrapped in a thinly veiled historial narrative. Not really an ARG, which should really be rooted in the story world of the one you are in and have a much deeper narrative structure, but by all accounts got people interested in more of the same. There are a few more on-going that I will post about later.

Finally onto true originality. There seems to be a lack of uniqueness in second life at the moment. I suppose the time it takes to become fluent in the environment means that only a diehard few will have the time to invent new things. Sure some new fashions have appeared but what does this environment provide us as raw materials to make the unique. Well a few are playing with the fact that in a world of ‘suppressed gravity’ and extended physics, where particle and layers animation is relatively straightforward combined with simple scripting, texturing and easily distorted primitive shapes – quite a few unique things are possible. Anya (again) introduced me to (aka) Clames Clanger (a professional music producer and filmmaker) who has his own special island where he creates unique, out of this world, but no so out of that world, pieces. They are all moving in very fluid ways and few reminded me forcibly of, getting back to the film I mentioned earlier, the transporter from Contact. All are truly innovative and pushing the imaginative envelope of a bio-mechanical future but retaining a naturalistic purity. Then there are his ‘nature’ pieces that exhibit a level of artificial intelligence many using particle physics. All great fun, profound and firmly rooted in what SL should be about.

Clames shows how the tools in the right hands can produce something special, sublime and unique. There are a handful of others ‘playing’ in this space so I am excited to see what evolves. It is was also great meeting up with him as he demonstrated something I had spent a few days creating from my real world panoramic photos, surround cycloramas for the film I am doing. So it was wonderful for Clames to show that SL has its own holodeck (thanks to Nightspy). Yes a box that contains a range of computer controlled, full surround imagery exactly meeting my needs – complete with Star Trek speech commands. More on that experience and how we work with it in a later post.

The speed at which information moves here really promotes creative thinking. The next thing is to move some real world media management thinking inside to provide a strong foundation and to allow the creatives to flourish.

To summarise then. In an immersive enviroment with a unique but simple set of tools anything is possible. I suspect the majority of the potentially one million by the end of the year (if the growth statistics hold up) will be doing what they always have done. A few though will pioneer, do what is impossible in the real world and create totally unique user generated content. It goes without saying that the late 2003 policy of Linden Labs on advice from the forward thinking Lawrence Lessig and his in-world talks helped a great deal in promoting creative thinking here – remove the barriers to unlimited innovation, these include a sense of ownership of the work but with that needs to be very accessible and easy to use tools, and SL has some of the best.

Post and photography by Gary Hayes ©2006