Friday, December 19, 2008

Weblin clones SL Avatars to the web

Yesterday the German based webservice Weblin announced it has a new service, a 'Weblin Gate' which lets you take your Second Life avatar to the web. I've blogged Weblin last year september, when it was just launched, but haven't used it a lot since. However, that might change.

What Weblin basically does is let you create an avatar which can walk across the bottom of your webbrowser. When you're on a page with other weblin users you can see the other avatars on the webpage and interact with them. Weblin also has an option for its users to create custom avatars, but you have to be an expert in 3D graphics and animation if you want to have that avatar be able to move.

The service Weblin is offering now in Second Life is that they make a photograph of your avatar, then override your animations and 'film' your avatar making the typical Weblin moves so the service recreates your avatar outside Second Life. Dean Takahashi was among the first to blog the new service and he wrote:

What happens in virtual worlds, stays in virtual worlds. That’s the way it’s been when you create an avatar, or virtual character, in places such as Linden Labs’ Second Life.

But now Weblin, a Hamburg, Germany-based startup, has figured out a way for you to teleport your Second Life avatar to any web site. The Weblin Gate being released today lets Second Life Residents (or players) export exact replicas of their avatars and use them on any web site.

As far as writing goes, I like the first sentence of that blogpost, but regarding the facts, it would be too much credit to the folks at Weblin. We're not talking real teleportation here, or interoperability as the in-crowd calls it, it's more like scraping or cloning. As usual the ever present Virtual Worlds News nailed it down quite fast as well, writing:

This isn't true interoperability--the service takes a picture of the avatar in Second Life and maps it on to a Weblin avatar, and users don't carry their assets or identity with them--but it is an interesting form of portability and a step towards larger goals.

That would be correct, also the outlook on this remark. I didn't use Weblin much before, but now it's fun to stroll over the web with my Second Life avatar and meet other Second Life avatars out there on twitter for instance, or, As Grace puts it on her blog 'Gracified':

Early adopter Second Lifers have already adopted weblins as a means by which to chat and socialize outside of the virutal world of Second Life, whether it’s attending Malburns and Tara’s brilliant weekly show, or just catching up while the grid is down.

It works quite easily, though it got screwed with me yesterday, hence my rather late blogpost. Anyway, things start out in visiting the Weblin photobooth in Second Life, on the New Berlin sim.

Once inside you'll meet Paule, an automated avatar who'll give you instructions. You've got to pay at the cash register (1 L$, which will be refunded immediately, but necessary to get your ID) and you can get onto the photoshoot area. Make sure you've got your animations turned off. Last night when I visited the first time, the preview snapshot only showed Paule's bum and not an image of my avatar. Today, it worked out fine though.


As soon as you're up there, almost crucifixed, you'll get a link to a preview. When the preview looks about right, you'll call Paule to continue. The Weblin script overrides your avatar and starts filming the appropriate movements. When that process is finished, you'll get a link to your new avatar. Quite simple. Below a picture of my new weblin avatar walking across this blog.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

The Forbidden City - an ancient site

The Forbidden City

Today I strolled around the virtual Forbidden City once more to drink in some of the ancient Chinese history, thinking of great tales of Marco Polo, the Silk Routes or the terracotta army. I must admit, I'm a sucker for history.

Speaking of which, here's a short history of the Forbidden City, which launched october 10th and to which I already devoted two blogposts:

Exactly one week later, the number of registered users has grown to 128.101 users, which I think is great. This isn't exactly a social world but more like a dedicated virtual environment. Dedicated to one single real life space that spins a thousand tales. Over at the Eightbar blog, IBM's Metaverse evangelist Ian Hughes finally blogged the Forbidden City today in a blogpost in which he gave us a little insight into the history of this build.

John (Tovla) was exploring options for the project that rolled on from his previous one of Eternal Egypt. John specializes in running large innovative projects that use the web for more philanthropic reasons as part of what is called corporate community relations.

So there we were in SL, I had my personal shiny new island Hursley and he and his team were looking at how they might represent the forbidden city in the growing world of the virtual, non game metaverse. So I loaned the team the island, and a massively detailed chinese build started to form in the sky over the next few weeks whilst they procured their own official island. [read full article here]

What I do like to point out is that once again, it clearly names Second Life as the catalyst, the testing grounds for dedicated virtual environments. The other thing that excited me was the mention of Eternal Egypt.

I'd hoped this would be yet another virtual endeavor, which unfortunately it wasn't. It's a great resource website on the ancient Egyptian culture. This however does bring me to my next point.

The first time I walked the city and marvelled at its detail, I thought back to my days at Ancient Sites and wondered how it would be to walk from this city, to say ancient Rome or Athens, to have multiple sites like these exist. Given the current meme one would start talking interoperability right away, but I'd like to turn the other way for now.

Ancient Sites

The Ancient Worlds community started in the early 90's I think , under the name Ancient Sites, as a bulltetin board based community which initially focussed on history, but later developed into a widespread community with a lot of roleplay as well. Initially it was split up into 4 cities, Rome, Athens, Babylon and Thebes if I recall correctly and was later expanded with Machiu Piccu and the Ancient Celts. It grew in the early 90's to about 120K users, which historically speaking in pre-web2.0 times was pretty good. In the late 90's it went bankrupt, but started up again shortly after 2000 under the name Ancient Worlds but in 2005 returned to its former url: http://www.ancientsites.com/. In this second evolution of the community it was no longer strictly focussed on cities but more regionally. It was also extended with the Orient (hence the Forbidden City association) and the early German tribes. It never rekindled this old spark though, and now holds about 35K members.

Inside Ancient Sites I created my first internet handle, Johannes Nestor. It had about the same user format as Second Life has, predefined last names and free first names. These last names were familynames from well known historic people and families from these ancient cities. My initial interest in this site was history. At the time I was writing my senior thesis, titled "The Alternate Word - A comparison between Fantasy Literature, Mythology and Religion" and was looking for resources on various myths, both ancient Roman and Greek as well as Scandinavian and Etruskan. Through the bulletin board system I could easily find the tales I needed and came into contact with experts from around the world to find out more on these topics (who ever said the social web is a post 9/11 thing?)

I got caught up in Roleplay pretty soon though and one of the roleplays I got into was the recreation of the Byzantine Empire in which I tried to set up an economic system which earned me an estate on the isle of Naxos, made me a Patriarch and finally earned me the title of GrandMaster of the Knights Templar.

The plot thickened and we were up for war. So I created my second handle, Uriah Atrahasis, a Hetite named after Bathsheba's husband Uriah, which became one of the leading generals in the Byzantine army. We 'blogged' our travels to Syracuse and waged war on the Moors. It was a sport to do this as historically accurate as possible. So everything was checked against Sun Tzu's Art of War (which wasn't untill much later and on a different continent, but that made me win the wars), I dug up every scrap of information I could about old Roman galleys and other seavessels of that time, got into smithying, Phoenician and Hetite cultures, etc just to get the facts straight. In my roleplaying days at Ancient Sites I learned more about history and culture than I ever learned in school.

My third handle on Ancient Sites was Finn Folcwalding. In the initial plans for the extention of the ancient sites with the Germanic Tribes the creators focussed on the Goths and other tribes like Blatand (Blue-Tooth), Meroving, Habsburg and Scylding I urged them to included the Frysians as they were one of the strongest tribes fighting the Romans. Hence, the Folcwalding family was born. Not that it's a typical Frysian name, but Finn Folcwalding appears in (e.g.) Beowolf as one of the Frysian Kings.

From about the day I signed on to Ancient Sites I've had the believe that this had the potential to change our Educational system in the way which students could globally interact, learn languages, geography, history, art and you name it. Shortly after it's revival I worked shortly with the creators of the site to see if we could find a more 'immersive' way to set up the site and we experimented with flash based maps of the ancient cities. Unfortunately this wasn't sponsored by IBM, as is the Forbidden City, and had to make do with limited funds and knowledge so we never got that makeover work out.

The Eduverse Foundation

A couple of years later, i.e. present day, I still see potential behind this site in order to change education. Last year I encountered a recreation of Ancient Rome in Second Life, and again I wondered how this would work out at Ancient Sites. A short proposal didn't work out, the crowd there isn't into VW's much, but in the end it was one of the reasons I got involved with the startup of the Eduverse Foundation, which tries to chart the educational benefits of virtual worlds for educational purposes.

No doubt you'll find all sorts of arguments of why not to do this. Within the Eduverse Foundation itself I've had a number of discussions on this topic. Quite a number of Metaverse Evangelists are of the opinion that recreating Real Life things in a virtual environment is a bad thing, and shos a lack of understanding 3D-ness. I partly agree, but cannot deny its power to explain present and past as well.

In this regard I'd also like to point out the "Otherland" series by Tad Williams. When speaking of the Metaverse we always name Neil Stephenson and William Gibson, but I think Tad Williams should be mentioned in the same breath as it comes to visionaries on the Metaverse. In the Otherland series he describes a virtual world which has two aspects:

  1. A digital city, sort of a mainland area where people spend their time socializing and shopping, somewhat alike Stephenson's "The Street" from Snowcrash
  2. A vast realm of simulators, like Second Life Islands, which are connected through a river. Each of these simulators has its own theme. These themes range from scifi to fantasy.

A number of simulators described in the Otherland series are historical sims. We find ancient Egypt and Troy for instance. I would recommend reading this series to get an idea of what could be created in Networked Virtual Environments and what this could do to aid education.

Image from the upcoming Otherland Game

Concluding I'd say: IBM, please go on. Not from an innovative point of view, but from a historical point of view I'd like to see more environments like the Forbidden Citycoming

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Outeroperability according to Myrl

Last week I blogged about the state of affairs of interoperability, i.e. connectivity and portability between virtual environments, this week the focus shifts towards outeroperability with a view on Myrl.

Myrl isn't a world, it's more like a gateway, or as the Virtual Worlds Forum puts it:

"It is a website which aims to act as something of a hub for users of multiple virtual worlds, with the ability to keep track of friends, send messages and discover new worlds. They argue cogently for its need: 'The extraordinary growth of the number of worlds available and the extreme diversification of the experiences that are now possible in the virtual space is changing the way we use virtual worlds, making our virtual experience more and more multi-world and content-driven, rather than world-driven. We want to support and foster this change, providing a platform that enables worlds-browsing and makes our virtual lives easier, richer and funnier.' "

Myrl launched last week (no surprise there since it was VW Conference time) to open Beta, but already existed for some time in closed alpha. Currently Myrl offers a point of entry for 19 virtual worlds, the ability to manage several avatars from one dashboard, and to aggregate content from multiple sources to create something of a lifestream pulse.

(Website Snapshot: the 19 Worlds Myrl currently connects to)

Francesco D'Orazio, Founder and CEO, commented:

"We’re trying to build a cross-world entertainment platform with two goals; The first goal is to bring together the different virtual worlds and create an integrated space with endless possibilities. We’re trying to build a layer on top of each virtual world to create a common ground and build different applications. Some of them might be mobile some them might be cross-world gaming some might be virtual goods-related, but the core idea is to bring together virtual worlds."

Myrl is working around real interoperability, using the Web as hub between worlds. D'Orazio thinks that's essential for the way we're using virtual worlds. He comes back to the metaphor of the early Web as full of walled gardens before opening up. But instead of asking each virtual world to pull down its walls for interoperability, D'Orazio thinks that their current trend of connecting to the Web is enough to promote outeroperability. That supports, as D'Orazio puts it, users' "switch from a context-driven mentality to a content-driven mentality."

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Grid Jumping

Tomorrow the Fall-Edition of the Virtual World Conference and Expo starts again, this time in Los Angeles. It's been a year since I visited the one in San Jose. At that time, there were a few buzzwords around, amongst which "Interoperability" was very hot.

Popular belief is that in order to become mainstream, virtual worlds need to have interoperability, i.e. the possibility to exchange information between various virtual worlds, like teleporting your avatar from say Habbo Hotel to World of Warcraft, or to put up the Wikipedia definition:

"With respect to software, the term interoperability is used to describe the capability of different programs to exchange data via a common set of exchange formats, to read and write the same file formats, and to use the same protocols.(The ability to execute the same binary code on different processor platforms is 'not' contemplated by the definition of interoperability.)

The lack of interoperability can be a consequence of a lack of attention to standardization during the design of a program. Indeed, interoperability is not taken for granted in the non-standards-based portion of the computing world."

A year ago, this was the gospel according to IBM and Linden Lab that would change the face of the virtual earth. And thus they made a deal to work together. Aside from this more or less official partnership, dozens of companies, like Philips and Cisco teamed up and the Interoperability Forum was opened, a wiki to discuss interoperability issues. This forum didn't really live up to my expectations, with barely 50 posts (50% of which deal with organisation proposals and quabbles) in a year and the last post more than 3 months ago.

So, what happened to interoperability, is it dead? Not yet. In June 2008 IBM officially announced they had succesfully teleported an avatar from the Second Life grid to OpenSim. The following account, posted by Zhaewry gives a little insight into the extent of interoperability:

"At about 11:00 AM, Linden, Ruth arrived on an OpenSim server, quite quietly, and to her surprise. We had been testing some code, and I’d asked Layla Linden to try to log on again, to see how the bug looked on the client side. But.. the latest fix, put on moments earlier, was, in fact, the last one we needed. I logged in as well, and several other folks from Linden lab joined us.

What’s so unusual about logging into OpenSim? Nothing. But.. this wasn’t a normal login. All three Avatars had been logged on via the Agent Domain in the Linden Lab Aditi test grid. The Agent Domain took a “place_avatar” request from the client, and issued a “rez_avatar” request to the OpenSim, which handed the Agent Domain the necessary details so it could relay it to the client, and permit a login. We’re all Ruth, because we’re not yet syncing the agents with openSim inventory yet. That’s just a small matter of programming… (Well, that’s what we programmers always say.) We have no inventory, and we’re stuck on the single region. But.. It’s a very nice first step."

It is not full interoperability yet, but it's a step. I'm wondering how big a step it actually is, as OpenSim is a reversed engineered Open Source Second Life thing in which both IBM and Linden Lab themselves highly participate. It actually is miles off interoperability between say OpenSim and Active Worlds. The question is, will it ever get there?

Dozens of worlds out there do not see the value of interoperability, right from the start, as I wrote in one of my reviews on the VW Conference last year:

"While talking to Craig Sherman on this he let me know that Gaia is pursuing its own target group and has no intention whatsoever to even start thinking about portability. pretty much the same goes for Habbo Hotel, as Timo Soininen doesn't see much chances to asses the value of goods for portability."

Tomorrow the fall edition of the Virtual World Conference 2008 kicks off. I am curious to see if Interoperability degrades into a purely Linden Lab - IBM project, which really would be a shame. Maybe the interoperability these two pursue isn't the one that will fit the market, but there will have to be standards in the end. We've tried Microsoft Passport, OpenID and a few others for the flat-web, and those were also disappointing.

It's going to be a long hard road. Don't stop walking it.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Integrate or wrap up

Many will agree that Virtual Worlds are wonderful tools when it comes to visualising hard to explain stuff and offer a range of quite useful possibilities. Yet NVE's are still a niche market and have obviously failed as marketing tools. They don't hold the power to overturn the internet yet and become mainstream applications.


In my opinion the key lies in integration with mainstream and social networking tools. Virtual Worlds such as Second Life are still mainly social worlds, used for social interaction for certain special interest groups and in this regard they are a mere 3D Chat addition to social networks. In this day and age these social networks are in charger of the internet with Facebook, Myspace etc. holding vast communities. If Virtual Worlds are to stand more than a "snowballs' chance in hell" in this web 2.0 battle for numbers they have to bridge the gap.


I think I've mentioned Kaneva in the past as pioneering this with their user profiles with blogging, etworking features etc. to enhance the social power of their virtual world. I've mentioned integration a number of times in the articles here on MindBlizzard and in presentations I did in the past year and a half.

Just over a year ago I wrote:

"One of the great features of Kaneva is the personal homepage that you get as a resident - a good start to integrate Web 2.0 and Web 3D into one environment. Think of the power of integrating Second Life with Flickr, Blogger, YouTube, Twitter/pownce and Facebook all in one!"

We've seen a small Facebook widget appear last year in which you could linkup with your Second Life friends, an attempt to integrate Second Life with Joomla, but now the integration takes a step forward as Tribal One integrates Facebook and OpenSim in a first step towards a new approach to 3D/Web integration

As usual, UgoTrade, has a very extensive and thorough blog on this integration:

The picture above shows the in the left pane fetched pictures from Stefan’s Facebook photos. As Stefan explains a hybrid web app is talking to the region to change the picture accordingly and pull the photos into frames on the wall (for a more detailed technical explanation see here).

read more at: UgoTrade.

More to come

There's bound to be more to come on cross platform interfaces and 3D/Web integration. Check out Digado for example with it's accounts on the "Second Life Interface Debate", and here's a vid from Smashing Magazine on "Futuristic Interfaces"


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Thursday, April 03, 2008

IBM and Linden Lab create 'enterprise-safe' grid

Though the potential of Virtual Worlds for businesses has been established, the concerns of safety and security of (sensitive) corporate data has been a major issue and caused much reluctance for corporations to create their Virtual Office. Today Reuters announced IBM and Linden Labs have been working on a solution and are ready to go public with their 'Grid behind the Firewall'.

Using the server and client software of Linden Research Inc.'s Second Life, and the interoperability program created by IBM they managed to create a separate place which would allow any of the (well over) 5,000 employees of IBM to enter the private grid, but keep the rest of the Second Life users out of their corporate servers.
IBM has more than 5,000 employees using Second Life for purposes such as sales training or collaborating across different geographic regions. The company will also allow the employees to explore Second Life. And whey will be able to cross into IBM’s secure firewalled corporate network, much like users do with a virtual private network, which creates a secure connection from the Internet into a corporation so that users can log into enterprise applications from their homes.

The firewall will also prohibit regular users of Second Life from gaining access to portions of Second Life that are available only to IBM employees. Spohrer said that the companies have to work out exactly what to move behind the firewall to guarantee security.
Source: The Standard

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Life 2.0 in Wonderland

One of the prime Technology events is Dr. Dobbs Life 2.0 Conference. Today saw a series of talks in Second Life as well. Unfortunately I didn't have time to drop in. The good thing was that I was kept up to date through the Metanomics group IM on today's keynote;

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9:00 AM PDT - 10:00 AM PDTKEYNOTE:
Project Wonderland - 3D Toolkit for Building Virtual Worlds. Nicole Yankelovich, Principal Investigator, Collaborative Environments Project, Sun Microsystems Laboratories

Project Wonderland is an open source toolkit for building 3D virtual worlds for business and education collaboration. Within a Wonderland virtual! world, p s, interact with team members, and have chance encounters with colleagues, all using natural voice interaction. Most importantly, real work can be accomplished with Wonderland's support of X and Java applications as well as innovative telephone integration. With application sharing as the default, people can create, edit, and share documents within the virtual world.

Wonderland is built on top of the Project Darkstar game server platform, which provides enterprise-grade scalability, reliability, and flexible integration with other enterprise systems.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Surprisingly enough, synchronisity strikes again. Thursday I have to give a presentation on collaboration and project management in Virtual Worlds, and one of the options I will discuss is the Wonderland project as it is one of the most advanced platforms when it comes to collaboration at this point in time, I think.

Perhaps we have to clarify a bit on the names used, as it sometimes causes some confusion.

  • Darkstar: (also referred to as project ~) The game server platform which is the foundation of the technology
  • Wonderland: (or project ~) The open source virtual world produced by Sun, which is built on top of the Darkstar platform.
  • MPK20: The wonderland version Sun uses as its own private development VW.


Some bits and pieces on Darkstar / Wonderland from the speech:

Darkstar permits users to participate in one space without sharding. In addition to Darkstar they use jVoiceBridge for audio. It also permits interacting with telephone systems. They are also trying to get their artwork to be open source or CCL. Part of Wonderland includes collaboration capability that can be extended to enterprise software.It can interact with business data. Darkstar also scales down...an instance with 2-3 users can run on a laptop

There are external worlds live today: and some coming up fairly soon. They have tested some already. Small wonder; Wonderland is not planned to interact with SL... However, except maybe in the interoperability space (transportable avatars, etc.) and they will cooperate as much as possible.


For a complete schedule of the Dr. Dobbs Life 2.0 conference in Second Life click here.
More info on the Wonderland click here.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Your expectations of the Metaverse in 2007

This evening I took some time again to skim through my Linked-In network and browsed the questions from my connections. There's this lad, Rick, who's working on a thesis on Second Life and the metaverse. He posed this question:


Has Second Life in 2007 raised or lowered your expectations for the
Metaverse?
Since the big hype in October of last year those who have been watching the Virtual World of Second Life have seen the hype come and go. But what have we learned from the most successful metaverse up to now? Has it raised or lowered your expectations for a social virtual world?

Now I had a bit of a fight with Linked-In tonight. My answer was too long (apparently 4000 characters max), I tried adding the last bit by clarifying, tried editing and finally deleting and start over again. However, that didn't work either as it said I had already posted. So here's my answer:



Early 2007 I said that the age of the Digerati was gone and that 2007 was the beginning of a new era, that of the Metarati, the visionairs that bring us the metaverse. It truly has begun. It's not just Second Life, but the whole industry.


The year isn't over yet and we've seen over 2 billion US$ in investments in the Networked Virtual Environment Industry. It's not just SL: It's platforms like Qwaq springing up for business, it's Neopets going 144 million subscriptions strong, it's Hipihi, Novoking and the other Chinese booms, it Football superstars and Barbie Girls boosting the extraverse (branded worlds) and it's Sony Home or Eve Online with the new Crytek engine bringing us superior graphics


Over the past year Second Life has drawn more media attention than any other virtual world, respectively positive and then later ill-informed negative publicity has driven the world of Second Life into a hype cycle, especially in the Dutch Press after the Dutch PCM Web (Personal Computer Magazine) picked up a story by the LA Times that companies are getting disappointed in Second Life.


It is another sign of old media living in total oblivion of what is going on.


"After an enormous hype om Second Life more and more 'experts' are getting sceptic on the added value of Second Life to business. Online visitors aren't big shoppers, but are mainly looking for entertainment" reads the introduction. Where did this come from? There's hardly a real life company to be found in Second Life that's actually selling stuff. If it ain't on offer, we can't buy it.
"Successfully promoting your company inside the virtual world of Second Life shows to be harder than expected. More and more marketing departments conclude that Second Life residents feel like visiting their online stores. "Actually there isn't any convincing reason to be present in Second Life" says Brian McGuinness, a Hotelchain bigshot in the LA times, and thus his company left Second Life"


Most of these 'marketing departments' probably have never seen Second Life from the inside. Many companies just use Second Life as another medium for corporate communication... without understanding it. It's back to the early 90's when serious companies launched crappy (excuse me) Frontpage websites.


In most cases there wont be a ROI (return on investment) indeed for the year to come, or even the year after. When will companies see that Second Life is not a commercial, a product flyer?
There are companies that dig SL though. Have a look at Intel and Cisco giving tech meetings and classes on Java and other skills. take a look at Philips taking surveys, or at ABN Amro organising sponsor events for non profits.


One of the most telling lines in this article is the following quote: "Analists from Forrester (yay, the big reasearchers) have calculated that at prime time there are only about 35,000 to 40,000 visitors in Second Life" Okay, prepare for another research paper (usual rates about $ 1.000,- US dollar / hard cash) telling you the same the counter on this webpage -an many many other websites - will show you every single day. The good news is: You don't even need to pay me L$ 1,000 to get this info. (Concurrent Logins as per june 07, now over 50K)


Now the Dutch seem to have been in the grips of hypecycles for several years now, on a range of subjects. The nation is becoming governed by the whims of media. The point is that most companies don't really have a clue either to what they want from a virtual world like Second Life. It still seems like many companies establish a presence in Second Life because everybody does so (that's no longer valid). It's like users: If you register for SL and have no idea what you want to do there, you're likely not to return. You're at a loss. Companies should have a goal in Second Life as well. Innovation, Exploration, Crowdsourcing, User Acceptance, Branding, Sponsoring whatever, just make up your mind and set some goals...


Aside from the misperceptions I have seen the virtual worlds grow. Many new startups stir up competition, challenging each platform to innovate and stay at the top. There’s the promise of new and converging media with projects like CSI:NY, The Office, Gossip Girls and the Korean Que Sera adding interactivity to television, which make me believe we are making progress on making these worlds fit for business. So yes, sofar 2007 has definately raised hopes of making the metaverse fit for business. Virtual Economies are the fastest growing economies on earth. Advancement in terms of stability and scalability are made in rapid succession. It's an enormously varied landscape though, different cultures, people and habits. A wide variety of engines are used to drive these worlds. Some are java-based, some are desktop applications that connect to grids and some are using streaming technology. It's almost impossible to try and define these worlds, let alone find ways for identity management unified communications, interoperability and portability for the sector. These are the steps we have to make these worlds an integral part of our daily work or leisure time.

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Friday, November 02, 2007

Charting the new Worlds

UPDATE: The numbers in this blog are old. There will be an update shortly.

This blogentry was posted first at the Virtual World blog powered by Sogeti Sweden. As it is a new blog I gave an outline of the market we're dealing with. Several bits and bytes have appeared on this blog before - VeeJay



It's a brave new world out there, the question is which world? We've seen the industry of virtual worlds explode in this past year with billions of dollars of capital funding, takeovers and corporate builds. Over the past year Second Life has drawn more media attention than any other virtual world, respectively positive and then later ill-informed negative publicity has driven the world of Second Life into a hype cycle (as defined by Gartner).




Networked Virtual Environments

There's more to it though. There's not only a brave new world out there, it's an entire universe. It was also Gartner who did a short report on virtual worlds in december 2006 and introduced the term NVE, Networked Virtual Environments as an overal term for the industry, their definition:



An NVE is an online platform in which participants are immersed in a three-dimensional representation of a virtual space. Other, analogous, terms for
NVEs in the market are metaverses and virtual worlds.


It's not a 100% definition as the industry also includes 2D spaces. I'd like to use it as a term for the entire universe whereas I would reserve the usage of the metaverse for a specific section in the industry.



So how big is the market we're talking about?

A very good kick off was given at the Virtual World Conference in San Jose (10-11 October 2007) by Christian Renaud. He put in some good effort to come up with a list of about 75 Virtual Worlds with subscription numbers.





This subscription pie is based on the number of subscriptions per virtual world. Adding up to a grand total of 465.000.000 registered users. Wow, that's huge. That's the entire population of North America, or the entire population of Western Europe. And this is not even counting the Asian (Ralph Koster estimates the number to be close to 2000!).


This might be an unbelievable number. We have to put that into perspective. People do sign up a lot, then drop out. The current number of registered users in Second Life is about 9.2 million of which close to 2 million are active. Christian Renaud estimates the total number of active virtual world residents to be close to 50 million. Still, the number of signups is impressive. Let's take a look at the Social Network list on Wikipedia; it gives a list of 85 community sites totalling 1 billion registered users. Like web 2.0 sites, we do travel a lot. We sign up, play around and then move to the other world / site. And there's people like me. I'm registered at about 15 Virtual Worlds.



A division by Universe

This is the division of the NVE's I'd like to make




How do we use these worlds?


A quick and easy split up is to say we use these worlds for social activities (i.e. Social Network Worlds) and for personal recreation (online gaming). But we also start to use these worlds for business purposes: online meetings, training, simulation, promotion, recruitment etcetera. Where does the business fit in? There's a number of platforms out there that could be considered as being typical business environments. Like Qwaq with office applications and Forterra which focusses on training and simulation. And then there are the intraverses. These have a business oriëntation as well. The chart below shows the division by usage focus. There is business on Second Life, but Second Life is not focussed on business.







What is my audience?


Each world has its own culture and its own demographics. The chart below gives an overview of agegroups. It's not a demographic of the VW residents but an overview of worlds focussing on a specific agegroup. Teen Worlds are growing fast in the sector. There's no world yet that has a focus on elderly people yet. The virtual residents are generally young people. But there will be a market for elderly people, I'm sure. One of the problems of a lot of elderly people is a lack of social contact. We'll be seeing our first virtual elderly home in a few years time.






Genderspecifics


In a virtual world there probably is no discrimination by gender. For example. Construction is an industry in which we usually find very few women. Perhaps it's prejudice, but the genereal thought is that women can't carry a load of bricks. Physical inhibitions don't count in virtual worlds. Another point is that we use avatars, representations, choosing whichever form we like. I know enough men dressing as women or vice versa in Second Life. Likewise, most worlds are open to both man and women without specifically aiming at a gender. There are a number of worlds however that are specifically targeted at teen girls. I've called them Girl Worlds. They're usually running on an extraverse, being brand driven. Examples of these are



Here's a chart of the marketshare these worlds have:




Finally, it's an enormously varied landscape. Different cultures, people and habits. A wide variety of engines are used to drive these worlds. Some are java-based, some are desktop applications that connect to grids and some are using streaming technology. It's almost impossible to try and define these worlds, let alone find ways for unified communications, interoperability and portability for the sector.

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What's interoperability?

This afternoon I spent over an hour on the phone with Chritian Renaud, Chief Metaversal Bigshot at Cisco. Yes, that's right on the phone.... media 1.0 so to say. As I was on a sogeti-issued IBM T43 laptop I couldn't get Second Life to work (Ian please tell me this can be fixed) and also Skype failed.


After a good personal update (the us, timezone issues, busy schedules, kids, traffic jams, Prokofy Neva and stuff) we got down to business discussing the Metaverse and one of the VW Conference's buzzwords interoperability.


It remains hard to define the industry of NVE's, Networked Virtual Environments or virtual worlds. There's a mega grey area. You just can't categorize it straightforwardly. And yet we're trying. I'm doing so, Nick Wilson over at Metaversed is doing so, Christian is doing so and KZero is attempting much of the same.


It gets even harder when you get to discussing interoperability and some sort of unified communications or standardisation between these worlds. There's a few worlds out there that have a positive attitude towards the initiative, but others don't (see this post). What exactly is interoperability? Do we just throw all virtual worlds into a blender, find a common denominator, standardise it and run the risk of us all walking around in milky white avatars with jelly-green shirts and denying us all to use the potential of individual platforms?


Christian did quite a good blog on this over at Cisco: "Ode to Interoperability" It's truth, perhaps not the whole truth. It's a discussion. We're not there yet. What it all boils down to is that one of the key-elements will be Identity Management on the web. Christian tried to voice this in his piece, much of the same, not for virtual worlds, but for everyday web usage I run into every day, just like in my previous blogpost. I do have some thoughts to add to this discussion, but that'll have to wait. Bedtime now.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Collector 2.0 and Tribal Migration on the Web


Tonight I was adding some books to my Visual Bookshelf on Facebook. Right now the number of books on my shelf is 229. I stopped when I added David Baldacci's "The Collectors" and reflected some on my web 2.0 lifeystyle.




The thing is, I remember this isn't the first time I'm doing this. I remember me making a list of my CD's and Books in WordPerfect 5.2 to keep track of my stuff after I'd lend it to friends (some stuff didn't return-and some still doesn't).



Later I entered my CD's into CD-Collector, my DVD's into MovieCollector (both by the Dutch Collectors.com). That was fun. It connected with several online bookshops, like Amazon and it downloaded covers, synopsis and reviews.



The thing is, I don't wanna do this over and over again. I've been talking with a Sogeti colleague of mine on this yesterday. We talked about the future of the web. One of the things is that NOW we have customized content. We choose what we want, what we like. We decide what gets in and what gets out. The next step will be customized functionality. We choose which functionality we want to have at the time we need it. It's basically cloud computing.



Today I discussed Tribal Migration with another (Sogeti) colleague. People move from site to site. Let's join MSN spaces, it let's you do stuff. Then move to Hyves as it lets you do more stuff, now we all migrate to Facebook as it provides even more functionality. We're sitehoppers, application addicts.


We migrate, but our content doesn't. Our account doesn't and in the mean time all our stuff (the personal info we registered and the content we've added) stays put. Our stuff is all over the web. This is soooooooo wrong. I just want one single point of entry for the web. I want to register with one site folks. And I want functionality when I need it.


None of the aforementioned applications; Word Perfect, MovieCollector and Facebook's bookshelf did for me what it has to do eventually: create a single complete database with portable content. I have to go to enormous lengths to get a complete database of my stuff. I've got about 500 CD's, 200 vhs/dvd's and 30 meters of bookshelf filled to the brim (yeah I'm a bookworm). What the killer app has to do for me is make it easy. Be smart, be intelligent. Now I've got an API with Amazon and I have to choose which book I've read. I've got to choose the edition. No, just give me a barcode scanner and let me scan my books, you fill in the details...


The second thing it needs to do for me is give me a standardised output file. Give me an xml file which I can upload to the next application. For instance, I'd like to have my collection of books insured. If it can't be done in a single app, then at least let me upload it. The house burns down, I can tell the insurance company which books I owned and they can cover for the damage.


I must admit I just discovered that Collectors.com added a barcode scanning feature... Now add portability and I'm back as customer ;)


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Friday, October 12, 2007

VW Conference buzzwords: Interoperability and Portability

Christian Renaud's keynote this morning was generally received as an outstanding analysis of the Virtual World industry and the challenges that lie ahead of us if we want it to go mainstream.



Divergence


What it all boils down to is that the web, and especially the social web is getting very confusing. We need to have multiple identities, and now there are virtual identities to juggle as well. You've gotta go nuts if you have to juggle all that. This isn't much different from what I've blogged midway june (VeeJay juggles web 2.0 chaos). Like Christian said, we've failed to get openID into place when it comes to the web, let's try to get it right for virtual worlds.



Thought Leadership


In order to get this right for the Virtual World industry, several thoughtleaders met the day prior to the VW Conference, amongst which Cisco, IBM, Linden Lab and Philips. Linden Lab and IBM put forth a press release stating they are working on interoperability and portability. Other terms to describe this are unified communications between Virtual Worlds, or setting new industry standards (is it going to be VHS or Betamax?). IBM has made no secret of the fact that they have been pursuing this for months, the only speculation and blogosphere fuzz at the moment is that it's now an official tie-in with Linden Lab.



Convergence


So the market needs convergence, standards of portability to go mainstream. I personally feel this is a very, very good thing. In fact, I've been saying so for months. The real big challenges are:


  • How do you asses the value of virtual goods on various platforms in relation to other platforms
  • How do you get a sound Identity Management System in place

No consensus yet

In the beginning I said Christian's keynote was generally accepted as outstanding. Here's a few thoughts from the business

While talking to Craig Sherman on this he let me know that Gaia is pursuing its own target group and has no intention whatsoever to even start thinking about portability. pretty much the same goes for Habbo Hotel, as Timo Soininen doesn't see much chances to asses the value of goods for portability.

John K. Bates of Entropia / Mindark noted that value is generally based on user demand for goods and in a lot of instances World-specific. Like in Entropia you've got dung. Absolutely of no value if you return it to the Entropia caretakers, but a must have for landowners who need dung to fertilize their lands so they can grow monsters and tax those who come to their land to hunt monsters. So in entropia you might wanna be a dung-baron if you don't want to pay for stuff and still get rich.

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