Feb 032009
 

rocketoncomedyIf 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.

rocketontrafficdemoHaving 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

rocketonhypsterParallel 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

ABOUT ROCKETON:

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).

If you’d like more information, please contact:

Oct 222008
 

OK you should have spotted quite a few characters living on this post :)  Originally there were ‘video-real’ talking, salesy character centered on the page courtesy of CLIVEvideo but I still talk about them more below.

A few months ago I blogged about the new kid on the intranet block, those  ‘layered’ social virtual worlds. Quite simply they are communities of pseudo 3D avatars layered over the 2D web (browsers). I noted that these services are a transition to a ‘live’ collaborative web 3.0 world as this is more of a “let them dip their toes in” before committing to a higher bandwidth, more fully rendered 3D world such as many of those on my sticky video of the 08 metaverse.

I certainly think is the best approach for large numbers who wouldn’t be seen dead or alive in something like Second Life. This is another quick whistle stop tour of a quickly evolving player, Rocketon and also a recent Aussie company who have an alternative approach -  ‘live action’ video layered over the 2D web CLIVEvideo.com. (Incidentally if everything is working you should have had a person talking to you in the middle of this post – if not it may be many months later and things have broken OR some other technical reason I cannot ponder at the moment – IE!). Even though I start by talking about Rocketon and it’s implications, having the privilege of playing with the demo of CLIVEvideo for a while I realised many points are relevant to both – bar the ‘big’ nay huge fact that Rocketon is social (shared, real time and partly pulled) and CLIVE is pre-rendered, pushed and fixed (although they tell me they are working on being a bit more web 2.0).

I have been beta’ing and playing with Rocketon for the past few weeks trying to see how it fitted in with my normal zillion web 2.0/3.0 application lifestyle and finding out where the real attraction is for large numbers to adopt this hybrid paradigm. Firstly it I noticed that with Rocketon in minimize mode, every web page I visited it seemed to be doing something in the background, watching? Spying? Regardless every hour or so it gave me a present – some pixel jewelry, a funny avatar – I have a massive collection of stuff now – what to do with it all and how does an emerald relate to me browsing a ‘map of sydney site’? I have still to work out what is going on with general browsing but two killer apps are evident with Rocketon after a few hours tinkering. 1 – Making existing branded websites fun/sticky and 2 – Making web surfing more social, gamelike and challenging.

The first image you can see above is me and SilkCharm being silly so and so’s dropping Burger King pixel toys on MacDonalds sites (only we can see it of course), but with a larger group like the top image, it starts to have significance…if only in the ‘power’ to do so and the fact that pictures/videos are taken and put on blog posts/flickr/YouTube (ah the old rippling impressions). I also made a quick film of a few of us invading the SMH webpage, partly Laurel and myself showing how ‘communities’ can and will make ‘statements’ – much the same as we do in group based social situations in the real world. The potential for positive product placement, interactive toys, loyalty benefits and so on will not go unnoticed by readers of this post!

But the more interesting element of Rocketon for me is where the community are given the tools to create quests, puzzles or games for each other. To demonstrate the potential of CCG (community created games) the Rocketon team set up a simple quest with pretty easy clues. The process, you are given a mission, you read clues, travel to websites (with the Rocketon layer activated) come back to a base and so on.

The thing I really like about this simple example is that you can embed pixel ‘treasure’ or goods on websites, without any recourse to the website owner of course. (I am sure Rocketon are thinking hard about the legal ramifications of hundreds of RTons heading off to litigeous sites to find inappropriate items and then posting the experience!). Anyways you can see in these two images I have been given a secret envelope and sent to ebay to collect a parcel to post and then await further instructions. Suddenly a couple of web pages turn into a scene from The Thomas Crown Affair.

I have quite a lot more to say about Rocketon and it’s distant cousins such as weblin but time is pressing and lots more to get on with. For the moment though all I can advise them is to enable tools for the community to develop their own fun or for marketeers to start to offer quite tricky quests for real world prizes – I am sure this is happening, it is the only path to really get the numbers up.

So to CLIVEvideo. I have literally been playing with this for less than an hour today after Scott from Maxy’s grabbed me on twitter! It looks very promising. I have seen many variations of this over the years but the implementation of this particular technology is pretty accessible and is squarely aimed at ad agencies, SMEs and larger companies and those who want to differentiate their website and make it a little more viral. As with the points above about Rocketon the real value of having layered personalities over the webpage is to build bridges between the layers (the avatars or video peops relating to what is below them) – or why be there in the first place. CLIVEvideo.com have some great tools to build ‘key’ed’ (invisible backgrounded people) sequences and to also add in sequence applications (person, flash demo, person, page link, person, product video demo etc) and are focused on sales or corporate messages at the moment.

But imagine a future where the keying is from 4-10 people, a webcam community, who start to act a little like we have been doing with Rocketon. Doesn’t have to be full body necessarily, but why not – webcam pointing at users in front of a green or blue screen in their office/bedroom. Then you really have some potential to make the 2D web much more fun and sticky. The applications for marketing, socialising etc start to kick in when you can (like some video chat applications) render pixel elements over the top of the live video image. Ummmm. *rubs hands*… It will certainly be a lot of effort for some, but having specially designed web pages for ‘Keyers’ (as they shall be known) would also provide Google Lively type integration – key yourself live into this and make the branded movie etc etc: This reminds me a little of the fun video I did at AFTRS recently with SilkCharm and lots of invited real people – keye’d into World of Warcraft – that I shall leave you with!

Finally, finally well still on this topic a new player that makes it even easier to meet and chat based on the web page your on is Live World. It’s product LiveBar is basically a ‘chat’ engine that detects the page your on and connects you to others that are also on that page.

Now we will really see how popular some webpages are 🙂

Aug 052008
 

Gary Hazlitt, Gazlitt and me take a ‘break’ in over fifty worlds comprising the current metaverse, here is the holiday video…

I am doing a commercial report and curriculum development on the evolving range of social virtual worlds and have recently ventured into fifty of them to review and sample the culture, creative, business and educational potential. On my travels I got out my virtual camera and decided to capture a bunch of small vignettes which quickly turned into a body of audio visual delights – so decided to create a nice seven minute video for posterity.

I thought I would share the video publically as it demonstrates how ubiquitous, popular and streamlined many of these spaces are becoming across the intraweb / ‘cloud’. With over 300 million frequenting or registering for the non-game based worlds and millions of new investment in 2nd and 3rd generation services there seems to be no stopping them…Enjoy the video  (UPDATE: now standing at over 55 000 views!)

75MB MP4 Download available at http://www.justvirtual.com/SVWS_2008.mp4

A few immediate things that struck me on my travels:

  • That there are quite a few worlds now getting their balance on the shoulders of Second Life and really getting to grips with the social networking aspects vs the 3D’ness
  • There IS a balance between a social space and an ‘agreed’ advertorial world – “you give me valid experience, I accept a level of advertising”
  • A few new entrants realise that using a fully fledged, 3D game engine as the client for what is in the end a glamorous 3D facebook and requiring a high spec’d PC is not the best way. Second generation services like vSide have followed a good middle ground
  • As I reported a few days ago the ‘layered-over-the-2d-web’ version of these worlds such as RocketOn Exit Reality and Weblin show great usability and promise
  • Some worlds are demonstrating the precursor to photo realism and smooth motion while others have as much ‘immersion’ by providing intimacy with your friends in more cutesy environments
  • Many of these worlds operate without the hype we have seen with Second Life and have slowly been building up large communities. Beware any world that tries to launch on hype, as most of these worlds are still in adolescence and not ready for mainstream
  • The Metaverse is a world of connected worlds, how/when/if they are connected will be a real challenge from a technical and standardisation perspective. Especially as a few are starting to concentrate on themes, music, sport and probably in the end very defined niches – fly fishing social world anyone?
  • It is important for those who are supposedly representing or blogging about ‘the metaverse’ to get in there and try these services – beyond registering and wandering around for only 10 minutes (I could name several who haven’t a clue!) but…
  • There are not enough hours in the day to attempt to truly engage with each world but it is amazing how adept you become at spotting flaws and innovation when you put the effort in
  • lots more to follow from the official report in a future post…

KZero are turning out to be the best resource on the planet, tracking Social Virtual Worlds and their latent potential. They gave me permission to publish/post this great chart with a great stab at putting many of the worlds in the video across content sectors.

Social VIrtual Worlds Logos - End 2008

Here is a list of the worlds featured in my video in order of appearance:

Video details:

The ‘Social Virtual’ World’s A Stage
A Film by Gary Hayes © Personalizemedia 2008
http://www.personalizemedia.com

“This is not a Game” – Music composed and performed by
Gary Hayes http://www.korkyt.net

Jul 202008
 

Fed up with your avatar having to live inside a wall-garden world? Want to bring it out into the wider web to play? Well it seems a revolution is at hand, early days and a few notable services listed below, but keep your eyes peeled as virtual characters start to infiltrate our flat 2D web and turn web pages into a game, a veritable MMO. There are naturally several new and emergent marketing possibilities.

With the recent addition of Google Lively and a host of other character based browser enhancements what follows is a summary of applications or services that sit neatly between your traditional web 2.0 2D website (flickr, youtube, blogs etc) and a fully rendered ‘walk-around’ world. These are apps that mash game-like avatars with web pages, allow you to move inside pages or play with friends over the top of them. There have been many trials and false starts of these over the past decade but given the ‘game generations’ that are so used to being a toon/avatar/game character it seems a natural step to turn some, not all, web pages into something a little more ‘representational’ of our real social environments – for example why not gather around that cool YouTube video that has just come out, no not embed on a screen in second life, we all go to the YouTube page and hang out! Firstly though a reminder of where web 2.5 probably sits based on my oft cited diagram from a couple of years ago…we are looking at that point 2008 where the two way web merges with the live Web 3.0.

Web 1.0 to 3.0

There have been quite a few early ‘avatars’ on a page services and games in the past and many successful ones using basic pandora/ALICE type AI technology to create talking heads that welcomed you or read the page or even recommended things for you to go and consumer. Then I recall way back when AI type pets Catz/Dogz for example, that ran amok across your computer desktop. Then there are the newer generation browser’creatures’ neopets/webkinz and others that allow an element of tracking outside the worlds. But this list below is about casual, social virtual environments layered or embedded into traditional social media websites with the specific purpose of stimulating ‘chat’, sharing and other emergent and natural behaviour alongside traditional web media.

Weblin

A german friend in Second Life who knows the developers personally alerted me to Weblin a few months ago and they have gone from strength to strength. To quote from their own website

“Meet your friends and new people on every website! – Your personalized weblin avatar surfs the web with you, enabling you to see friends and meet new ones on the same site as you. Weblins can chat, move, show emotion, visit lounges, and trade stuff with other weblins.”

It has been PC only so far IE and Firefox with a weblin lite for mac and linux now in beta. I have ventured around a few media sites looking for the crowds gathering and chatting about the page they are walking around. The rich media sites work best of course and having yourself as a little character walking around the bottom of a web page takes a little getting used to and best done with a group of friends, touring the web together, remotely so to speak. Tremendous mash-up potential with Digg/Delicious and others. The point though with sharing a page with others is to have enough to talk about and even better in synch, so video sites are preferable to a single image on flickr for example. There is potential also for education use where a class of remote students and mentor travel the web and congregate around large text pages for discussion etc:

RocketOn

Much in the same ball park TechCrunch covers this Weblin clone-type start-up in a brief article based on their press release and quotes them – the company says

“we’re not targeting kids. I know those initial avatars look very Club Penguinesque, but when you see the full system, it will become clear that we’re going for teens and up (15+).”

This is currently in closed Alpha and it sounds like they are still raising funds from investors as their website is pretty thin but they have a lovely promo video below. This great article by Kirsten Nicole of Mashable (credit: linked image with Coke above) takes us on a step-by-step walk-through and leads to the most exciting but rather no-brainer element – as you surf around some ‘partner’ sites will have applications where your wandering avatar can interact with the page. So prizes for coming back, small games to play with others on the page and so on – marketers time to play! Another aspect that may make RocketOn more sucessful than Weblin is of course the fact that the avatars can roam around pages and build on them – well that’s the way it seems from the promo, in reality we shall see.

ExitReality

Unlike the two above ExitReality takes a slightly different approach to making flat boring 2D web pages more avatar friendly. They turn them into 3D worlds! Yes your heard correctly. The image below is me walking around a flickr page which almost instantaneously was converted into a 3D walk around gallery. Still very buggy on my souped up main PC with many sites not rendering at all, this has some real potential once they fine tune that dimensional converting widget. Keep an eye on these.

Text from their website:

  • What is ExitReality for?
  • View any webpage in 3D… every website is now a virtual world
  • Turn your standard 2D web page into your own unique 3D space
  • Meet and chat with people in 3D
  • Search and explore thousands of online 3D communities and meet new people!
  • What Can I Do?
  • Convert, decorate and share your Social Network Page in 3d
  • Collect cool objects to add to your 3d space or apartment
  • Create a 3d Avatar, chat with friends and meet new people
  • Invite people to your virtual space
  • Host real time parties and events at your online space

Google Lively

Google Lively - SilkCharms Pad 02

Well we all know about the new 500LB Gorilla in town, masquerading as a cutesy, half-baked 3D chat space. I have blogged about this a couple of times already and made a strong point that it is the ability to embed your small ‘lively’ window in ‘your’ sites as being its USP. I copy an extract from my post of a few weeks ago…

There is also a nod to PS3 Home given the strong create your own room using bits of found furniture (in fact very Habbo also), embed it in your blog etc and what looks like a catalog where 3rd parties can eventually come along and sell pixel products, virtual goods – which is where the real biz model is of course.

Vivaty

This new 3D ‘vivaty‘ plug-in for Facebook has lots of other web 2.0 integration Wired has a good introduction article on it from July 08…Vivaty Scenes Taps Facebook, AIM for ‘Immersive Internet’

A new immersive web platform called Vivaty Scenes lets users create tiny virtual worlds and decorate them with content from around the internet. After adding Vivaty Scenes, which entered public beta Tuesday, to a Facebook or AOL Instant Messenger account, users can set up a customizable “room” where they can host chat sessions or small virtual gatherings within a web browser. The free service lets users pull content directly from some of the internet’s most popular sites. Scenes’ virtual televisions can be populated with any video from YouTube; virtual picture frames can be filled with any picture from a user’s Photobucket, Flickr or Facebook accounts.

Another quote from their site:

Vivaty’s vision is to make the Immersive Web a reality by transforming the flat web into a more visually rich and expressive experience that amplifies socialization and engagement. The company’s end-to-end web platform is designed to enable distributed virtual experiences anywhere on the web. Founded in 2007, Vivaty is led by a team of web, gaming, and graphics experts…

MyCyberTwin

(Disclaimer: I do some work with these folk.) This is really a development of the old ‘talking head bots’ of the 90s and early 00s but with a twist. MyCyberTwin is you, well as close an approximation to your personality, wrapped in an AI text based engine which you train based on conversations people are having with you on yours or other’s web pages.

MyCyberTwin is a website that allows you to quickly create compelling virtual personalities called CyberTwins. These virtual beings live and breathe on the web and chat to your friends, family, colleagues or customers on your behalf.

OK how is that a LSVW (Layered Social Virtual World) I hear you ask? Well as they say “MyCyberTwin is a website that allows you to create virtual personalities that can chat for you online.” So this backend persona can be plugged into any client – we have done it with Second Life but their real model is having MyCyberTwins have ‘social’ conversations on blogs or marketing sites and so on. It is really you being able to chat non-real time, asynchronously to friends or interested parties 24/7- it is you digital proxy.

Pandora and SitePal

At both ends of the rather off-line talking at you continuum we have a free to use AI backend that allows you to run customised chat mash-ups over your web site in Pandora (1) and then the most commercial example of the same thing in SitePal (2). There are many in-between.

2 SitePal provides a number of powerful, yet easy-to-use features for designing, scripting and publishing your animated speaking characters.

1 Pandorabots is the place where you can create and unleash virtual personalities. Pandorabots is an experimental software robot hosting service based on the work of Dr. Richard Wallace and the A.L.I.C.E./AIML free software community.

From any browser, you may create, design and publish your own software robots – and make them available to anyone via the Internet. Sign-up for an Account to begin creating your own virtual robots.

PMOG.org

Otherwise known as Passively Multiplayer Online Gaming with a catch phrase ‘play the web’ and more about playing as groups across web pages rather than ‘real’ avatars layered on or in your web browser. PMOG’ers are given or create quests, missions (hundreds of them!) and most importantly set traps or goodies for each other and can literally bury treasure or mines or other clues on specific URLs that other players are likely to ‘stumble’ across – all managed from a “World of Warcraft’ type plug-in, bottom bar for Firefox. They earn points travelling around that can be spent at a ‘Shoppe’ – which I have yet to find myself!

There is a link between PMOG and a site called GameLayers who have a large team and advisors including Cory Doctorow. They are lead by Merci Victoria Grace as CCO whose bio reads:

“a creative force in the field of immersive entertainment design. A writer and artist…At GameLayers, Hammon envisions a game built on top of the entire internets and works with creative people to materialize that vision.”

TechCrunch about summed up some of the fun to be had with this ‘layered’ gaming saying that they already had 15 000 players back in May of this year – PMOG Launches – Go Lay Some Mines On Your Friend’s MySpace Page. Here is a quick screenshot of a quest just about to happen with players on a mission for Content Virtual Worlds

OK a quick round-up of a few new services currently enabling a new way to browse the web. There are many important implications that come out of this collision mainly around the investment of time people usually put into their avatars in self-contained world could be stimulated in some of the examples above – loyalty for browsing and tracking as your avatar automatically gains extra powers (game speak for reward for completing goals) as it visits ‘enhanced’ sites. There is also the possibility of interoperability with your other 10-40 avatars in other worlds that could receive some of the characteristics of the ‘web’ wanderer. The list goes on and I have to get back to good ole traditional web browsing. If you know of other examples of the above please meet me on this page regularly at 10pm AEST 🙂 Or just comment!