Oops! It appears that you have disabled your Javascript. In order for you to see this page as it is meant to appear, we ask that you please re-enable your Javascript!
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!

Nov 262007
 

At the Cross-Media Storytelling conference a few days ago I witnessed a strange event with one of the categories of speakers. There were three groups of speakers, forward thinking practitioners, catch-up heritage media representatives and theoretical, reflective academics. The last group had one or two useful observations wrapped up in PhD-like presentations but the two hundred strong continental European audience requested a little less complex rhetoric – I have talked about this problem before and upset a few in the process. But, that was not the strange element, it was that each academic, and I forcibly recall four in particular, were keen on de-constructing and putting forward the view that participation in and around web 2.0 is a myth. This ‘opinion’ would have been fine as a short two minute statement, but being academia they spent hours analysing it from many angles, backed each other up and of course gave many citations from esteemed writers and colleagues.

Now. Is it currently fashionable in academia to take the opposing view to popular media, industry? Probably, it gets you noticed. Is it common for several similar ‘theories’ to pop-up in one conference, a sort of academic zeitgeist? Most importantly is there any truth in what was being said? I don’t have time to write a long article on this (I am travelling – hence some probable typos and bad grammar) but I threw together a little diagram to support MY simple viewpoint. This diagram grew out my frustration of this one dimensional view (that only those who post/upload content are valued participators) and also from a live, real time, question I asked the last speaker who had put the theory forward for a fourth time. So I tried to get him to clarify what he meant, I paraphrase the question…
Gary: “Am I participating in this conference by asking this question”,
Speaker: “Yes of course”
Gary: “Then why are those who comment, rate, share, recommend, mash-up not considered participants in online social networks?”
The speaker then went onto to say academics have to draw a line in the sand between involvement those who may change the title of a podcast they downloaded for example and those who submit truly original content. Afterwards I said why do you have to draw a line when we are talking about ‘degrees’ of participation? He said academics like defined lines and specificity to be able to hang theories on – yet none showed any kind of digram or quantification of those lines. So here is my ‘line’ in the sand stating that participation in society, politics, online social networks etc: is not either on or off it is a continuum of degrees of influence. It is an analog and not a digital 0 or 1 as the academics represented seem to propose.

Myth of Non-Participation

All the speakers on the other side of the participation fence (I was one amongst the web 3.0, cross-reality stuff, putting forward simple concepts of co-creative communities and participation) talked about over mediation, moderation and artificial constructs that gave the ‘users’ (yuck word) a perception of participation in which there was none. My diagram above takes a different view. Anyone and everyone can have significant influence in the social network. Whether you simply share a video (The Sharers) with a friend or create one from scratch (The Creators), makes a statement and you are influencing. You can also have significantly more influence by commenting (The Critics) than by creating sometimes. You make a video that has ambiguous socio-political stance and the first comment may actually draw attention to what it is actually saying. I know many of ‘The Critics’ who fall into this. The other thing I was trying to represent on the diagram was scale, numbers and level. So we obviously have more of ‘The Consumers’ (passive watchers/readers) than say ‘The Editors’ – those who will take content and ‘modify it’ before presenting it. Also the potential ‘level’ of influence of each group is indicated in the right triangle, and one would imagine a focused blog post or moving YouTube video would have more influence – but as I said before if enough people rate it highly the actual influence is generated by the community, not by the original piece.

A few of the academic presenters talked about the environment the perceived participation exists in. That something like a TV show that utilises video stories from its community is filtering and doesn’t really allow them to participate – but who said Broadcast TV is about participation in the first place – especially the example from 1993 given! Another one said that a social network run by a commercial company is controlling and is naturally inhibits due to complex, proprietary interfaces the natural course of participation. My simple answer is, if any ‘environment’ allows the community to communicate with each other freely and have at least some degree of co-creation then it is totally valid. Open source is one end of this spectrum, but even then open source is still a ‘tool’ created by a small group of people for much larger members of the community that use it. One thing I referred to in my talk relevant to perception of involvement is something I call ‘pushed interactivity’. This to me is the real problem with so-called interactive services, point and click, pots of content. I have many tens of posts on this topic in the archive on this blog (which is founded on personalization of course) and its relevance here is the word ‘resonance’. To me participation is about resonance, what you do changes in whatever way the environment or system you are participating in. Period. When you perform any action in society (online or real world) you are participating in it.

My blog time is up. Duty calls and I have real time, real life conversation interrupting. You can participate in this particular discussion by being The Critic (comment), The Sharer (forward it to your peers), The Editor (copy paste bits, nick the diagram, write a nice soundtrack to it and re-present it to the world) or become The Creator (by writing an original piece on this topic, vs a fashionable one). An interesting question – is this post a comment? An original creation? Sharing? An edit? Whatever it is I believe it is participation and have some small influence.

Posted by Gary Hayes © 2007

Dec 062006
 

The Relentless March of Channels and Formats into Second Life

bb 07

Rather than just referring to the many standard press articles about the growing number of companies or formats that are setting up in Second Life (the media’s favourite MUVE at the moment) I have been ‘living it’ so to speak. My inworld blog JustVirtual provides an inworld perspespective, my avatars POV, of close encounters with the outside world’s ‘brand immigrants’. They are indeed seen that way by many residents, not disimilar to any alien brand entering a real ‘developing’ world. The recent companies include NBC, Philips Design, IBM, Reuters, Endemol and others that suggest that the next generation of entrants are moving in, with a far more robust and serious vision than the first wave who were just pushing product.

I can’t break the 4th wall in my other ‘fictional’ blog, I know strange, so I thought I would comment on two recent events in Second Life in 3rd person. The first is the preliminary days of the Virtual Big Brother and the second is Second Life’s most attended inworld event, the switching on of the Christmas lights in Rockefeller Plaza sponsored by NBC.

Big Brother Begins

bb 009

With these new entrants we are seeing a move to second gear, a shift in the maturity of the platform. Not technically (it still falls over an awful lot) or from a business model perspective (subs are still in the low 100k’s vs nearly 2 million registrants) but a web 3.0 paradigm shift – using the environment for quite practical and engaging services. I personally use Second Life (and other MUVE’s) for educational and creative purposes so I am probably already ahead of the curve. But onto to show. Big Brother selected its final 15 contestants (pic below) and I covered much of the lead up in this post. Most of the ‘housemates’ are women, I suspect because the producers are mostly male (I wonder how many of the females avatars women have a real world male driving them? We shall see.) I was actually on the last final 60 shortlist, but being able to commit to 8 hours a day online for the whole of December was impossible for me, so I didn’t pursue.

bb 06

A couple of friends are in there and already it is really interesting to see how the virtual Big Brother is becoming even more compelling than the real one! As well as the traditional backstabbing, personality differences or supportive housemate interactions (remember this is real people talking/communicating with other real people) all involved are are allowed to communicate to and lobby the many hundreds of passing/visiting ‘audience’ members. This ‘conversation’ is very engaging for those involved, the audience is resontating with the programme, or rather with the ‘experience’ – because this is no longer pre-packaged or controlled reality ‘video’.

For the audience inworld this is belonging to, and being part of the ‘game’. Lillani Lowell (my current vote and friend leading up to this event) gives an view down this particular rabbit hole for those who are not in Second Life (or likely to be) in her insightful updated blog from inside the house (the equivalent of the diary room I suppose – but here we get to see all entries). The odd but also thrilling part of the experience is being able to go and talk to the ‘stars’ of the show, whenever you want. They are there 8 hours a day ready and willing to ‘interact’ with you, albeit just to get you on their side perhaps, secure your vote, still it beats, hands down, an SMS into the void that we get with most so called ‘interactive’ shows. It will be very interesting to see how Endemol adapt to and learn from this process, this is a really exciting experiment as games/tv and online social neworks collide. Will they copy elements from this evolving format out into the rather stale ‘real world’ version? Perhaps not, as this is after all a self contained hybrid form which is best left to grow and learn to stand on its own feet.

bb 04

Above a group of loyal fans of Lillani (a talented scripter and builder) discuss the challenges ahead – in this Big Brother the housemates make things, complex 3D builds for charity. It is easy to appreciate the benefits of a this very diverse audience being used for these kinds of social experiments, game/tv formats. This is web 2.0 meets ‘TV form’ meets ‘games’, all evolving before our very eyes. It is also about game psychology, potentially interesting passive video generation and definitely about immersion for those involved. This particular version of the ‘show’ is thankfully nothing like the ‘real’ big brother, but it needs only the brand really to garner interest. The exciting thing is, it can and will go a lot further and I suspect there will be many other TV ‘formats’ and channels licking their lips. This is a really cheap way to pilot and user test web/tv/game shows after all. The ironic thing is though that this will likely gradually become the format for the masses over the next few years rather than the return to the traditional linear video route.

bb 03

A Virtual Christmas

The next event is one that starts to show the way forward as regards ‘merged media entertainment’ as I call it. The NBC virtual christmas was synchronised with the real event in the real New York, there was a virtual camera inworld streaming the virtual event onto the web and there was real TV news reports covering the inworld going’s on plus – a live band playing into the environment. My inworld post ‘Virtual Christmas with NBC’ gives an insight into the experience with far more images, for the 1000+ avatars across 18 or so duplicated sims – second lifes largest inworld event.

nbc 35

So TV, web 1, 2 and 3, virtual world, live concert and outdoor all mixed and mashed together. I found myself checking nearly all my blog categories for this one! Another important part of this event was the sympathetic branding in the environment. It wasn’t in your face, it felt part of the experience particularly as the incredible build of the Rockefeller plaza and tower was copied down to the finest detail. Aimee Weber and Bedazzle Design are now experienced developers who themselves are old residents and have empathy with residents. This is critical to the future of these spaces. Better films are made by filmmakers who love watching film, games by games players, music by musicians who love to listen to a variety of sounds and virtual worlds by those who inhabit them. No brainer really.

nbc 36

Above we can see the branding which didn’t spoil the experience for those waiting for the switch on of the christmas lights. The over representational build, the vane attention to duplicating every detail of the real world is not to my ‘particular’ taste but I can appreciate the ‘craft’ and stupendous effort. I think the real reason we are witnessing these 2nd generation ‘build and brand’ combinations is to draw more audience. The more cloning of familiar real world spaces the more tempted to enter, will be those normally reticent in entering MUVEs, virtual worlds and MMORPGs. I also think the more they see (in posts like this even) familiar brands the more comfortable they will be in taking the leap. The familiar chant of ‘get a life’ generally come from those who dont understand these 3D social networks, so now that sustained business models (millionaire Angshe), bona fide identifiable brands and big TV formats are taking root I am sure they may at least want to understand. Its going to be an interesting Christmas 2006.

nbc 35

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,