Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Canterbury Uni puts another $1M to waste

The Canterbury tales have gone virtual earlier this month. At least, the New Zealand version as the Canterbury University receives $1.77 NZD from the Government's Encouraging and Supporting Innovation Fund for a three-year project designing virtual work environments to give students practical experience. According to Canterbury University HitLab director Mark Billinghurst New Zealand is lagging behind in Virtual Technology. The funding will go into research for chemical engineering, audiology and health sciences.

Online newspaper Stuff did an extensive report on this funding on Januari 1st and gave us some ideas where the money would be going:

"Audiology students would work with virtual human subjects to test different rates of hearing impairments that could be difficult to find in the general population, he said.Students could even be virtually shrunk and find themselves walking inside a 3D model of an ear canal with sound waves floating through the air.."

There might not be a lot of Government investment in virtual worlds in New Zealand, but Canterbury Uni joins a host of universities spending millions of dollars in Virtual Worlds such as Second Life. The really sounds like something the Ohio State University has done a long time ago, be it on a different field of expertise in recreating a testis for students to explore.

The university is working with the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology to create a virtual work environment for nurses in training.

With virtual technology, they could practise their bedside manner and diagnostic skills without leaving the campus.

"This fills a gap in traditional education. There's a lot of book learning, but when people start jobs they don't necessarily have that hands-on experience," Billinghurst said.

Exactly the same thing has been done by the Ohio State University as well. I don't see a lot of innovation there. Don't get me wrong here though.

I'm a huge fan of educational institutes using the power of virtual worlds to enhance their programmes. The thing is, each and every institute is reinventing the wheel time and again, spending millions of dollars on projects that have been done before and can be modified for a few bucks. It is time for Educational institutes to organise themselves and create a widespread vision and cooperation to make an interactive, interoperable virtual curriculum instead of isolated projects.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Introducing the Hyperspeech Transfer Protocol (HSTP)

A recent study by Pew Research on the future of the internet was clear on one thing: Every expert in the field feels the focus of the web is moving towards mobile. The number of cellphones worldwide is rapidly growing. In India for example, there are 10 phones to every 1 pc. The latest wave bring smartphones with full internet capability. IBM's institute for Business Value predicts the number of mobile web users worldwide will reach one billion by 2011.

So it's really not surprising that businesses are starting to shift gear as well. One of IBM's latest insights is the voice controlled web, or the spoken web. 'You will talk to the Web... and the Web will talk back,' predicts IBM in its latest list of innovations that "have the potential to change the way people work, live and play over the next five years".

The concept is gathering steam with a project named "Spoken Web" that is being led by IBM's India Research Laboratory (IRL) team, and also being incubated in IBM's eight global labs in six countries. In fact, the corporation recently completed a pilot in Andhra Pradesh to implement the concept.

"The project was very successful. It started out with around 100 villagers but many hundreds joined later after seeing the response," Guruduth Banavar, director, IBM India Research Laboratory (IRL), told Business Standard.

The reason for this enthusiasm, he said, is simple. "Most people do not have a PC. Even smartphones are far and few. Besides, most people, especially the semi-literate kind, are not comfortable using a visual interface. But what most of the Indian population can do is talk. So the spoken web project makes immense sense." he added.

Read more at Rediff News / Business Standard

To support this fundamental change in how the internet works, IBM has developed a new protocol, named Hyperspeech Transfer Protocol (HSTP).

World Wide Telecom Web (also called as Spoken Web or Telecom Web) is an initiative to create an alternate web for the under-privileged. It could help bridge the digital divide by bringing the benefits of the information revolution to the billions of underserved people by providing information and services through a voice driven channel over an ordinary phone call. Information on this web could be community created as well as leveraged from World Wide Web. It is essentially a voice driven eco-system parallel and complimentary to that of the existing Web. Though primarily meant for the under-served in population in emerging economies, it has several applications for the developed world as well.

WWTW can be accessible to more number of people in the world as it enables an ordinary phone subscriber to join the digital information revolution. This enables a significatly larger fraction of the human population to benefit from existing and envisioned services than what was made possible by WWW. Specifically, it removes accessibility barriers that manifest themselves in terms of illiteracy, unaffordability and lack of relevant information. Further, it provides the means to create and sustain an ecosystem of local (and global) services, information and communities relevant to these underprivileged users. [Wikipedia]

IBM has put an effort into getting the abstracts of the HSTP onto the web, with wikipedia entries a with brief outline of how it works and various papers, such as the paper submitted for www2008, the 17th World Wide Web Conference in China in april last year (Paper:
The World Wide Telecom Web Browser) and an introduction to HSTP on their own website.

photograph from the book: The First Book of Sound: A Basic Guide to the Science of Acoustics by David C. Knight, Franklin Watts, Inc. New York (1960). p. 80

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Friday, January 09, 2009

Authority Search and Social Webdesign

Loic Le Meur wrote an interesting article last week on filtering by Authority to which I fully disagree:

"There were more than 7000 tweets posted during the two days of LeWeb, no way anyone can read them quickly. We need filtering and search by authority. We're not equal on Twitter, as we're not equal on blogs and on the web. I am not saying someone who has more followers than yourself matters more, but what he says has a tendency to spread much faster. Comments about your brand or yourself coming from @techcrunch with 36000 followers are not equal than someone with 100 followers. Most people use Twitter with a few friends, but when someone who has thousands, if not tens of thousands of followers starts to speak, you have to pay attention.

Brands do pay attention and already start understanding the difference. We made the experiment with Ben Metcalfe. I started complaining that Sprint was not offering the new Blackberry (they still don't, I want a BB Bold with worldwide unlimited data) on Twitter and minutes later a Sprint representative contacted me and offered me VIP customer service. I loved it. For the experiment, @dotben started also complaining about the same issue (and really would love a Bold too, it was true) but nothing happened for Ben. Why not? Sprint understood that I have nearly 10x the number of followers of Ben so I had to be answered immediately, even with my weird last name no one can pronounce. Ben has almost 2000 followers, I think Sprint should actually pay attention too.

What we need is search by authority in Twitter Search. Technorati had nailed it years ago by allowing searches filtered by number of links the blogger had. It would be very easy for Twitter to add an authority line in their search criteria, with the number of followers so that you can search for say, only people who have more than a thousand followers and see what they say. React as fast as you can for criticism from them. It is not a criteria for being smart or not, but clearly a criteria for how fast something can spread."

I fully agree with Loic that the amount of information we spread out nowadays is too much. If you pick up a saturday issue of the New York Times you'll be getting more information than a person would get in his whole life say 200 years ago. Every year we see a stellar growth in information. The information poured onto us in the last five years through the internet is more than the information mankind has produced in the 5,000 years before.

No wonder we get lost along the way, and you've got a hell of a job in finding out who really does know something about the issue you're pondering. I don't have Loics reputation, so I don't count as an authority here, but I dare say Loic is wrong. He's off by miles.

In his blogpost he pleas to have a twitter search by authority, just like technorati who worked out an algorithm to define the authority of your blog. I'll walk a mile with him on this path as the algorithm to define authority by number of citations or links is much better than counting sheer numbers of followers. However...

There's a catch.

The catch is in creating an elite layer, the twitterati, the digerati, or whatever you'd like to call them. While reading Loic's blogpost, two things came to mind. First a conversation I had past New Years'Eve and a blogpost I wrote about half a year ago on the Social Web.

The New Years Eve conversation I had was a conversation with my neighbour and my Sister in Law who has recently received her PhD at the Oxford University. She graduated in the interaction between insects and how that would affect a Ecological systems or something like that. Fact is she worked at the same department as Dawekins (the Evolution theory zealot) and the discussion went into Evolutionism vs. Creationism. On both sides you have zealots and with neither you can have a normal scientific, fact based discussion. Evolutionism is the dominant philosophy in Science these days and to most people it seems like the case has been closed. Evolution has been scientifically verified, beyond doubt. Well, it isn't. I didn't see a video on YouTube to prove it (nor did I see a video on YouTube to prove Divine Creation) and if you would conduct objective, unbiased science, you would have to conclude that the evolution theory has gaps. In a scientific setting you'd count on educated minds questioning these results, but in the way it is presented to our children who do not have the cognitive skills yet to analyse results, we are brainwashing them. If you look at how the scientific scene works it explains a lot. Authority in Science comes from the number of publications you have in a major magazine. Every paper you submit is reviewed by an editor who likes it, or not, regardless of the argumentation to your findings. Let's say you write an article about how Evolution sucks, no matter if you include 100% proof, if the editor doesn't like it, you're out. Next step is the peer review. Every paper, once it has passed the editorial selection, is sent to peers, colleagues and the same selections starts over again. Let's say my findings are solid and proves the previously published research of one of my reviewers wrong, he won't like that as it will make him lose his reputation, authority or stature. Case closed. No publication.

Selection and authority in this process kill Science as it should be unbiased and objective. It isn't. I think the same would count for authority based filtering. The key issue here is in automation. Google and other search engines have worked out algorithms, as well as technorati who put auhority to blogs. No matter how much intelligence you put into these intermediates, they cannot compete with the selection capacity of the human brain. These selection mechanisms will undoubtedly produce a prevailing elite, just like in the science case above and smart, intelligent and argumented opinions to the contrary will be neglected.

This made me recall a post I made several months ago on the social web called "Power to the Community" In this blogpost I discussed how my colleague defines social webdesgin. This is way more than defining the social web. It is about desinging your websites to create emergent behaviour. In extremis this could lead to Isaac Asimov's foundation series in which he presents the Psychohistory.

The basis of psychohistory is the idea that, while the actions of a particular individual could not be foreseen, the laws of statistics could be applied to large groups of people and used to predict the general flow of future events. Asimov used the analogy of a gas: in a gas, the motion of a single molecule is very difficult to predict, but the mass action of the gas can be predicted to a high level of accuracy - known in physics as the Kinetic Theory. Asimov applied this concept to the population of the fictional Galactic Empire, which numbered in a quintillion. The character responsible for the science's creation, Hari Seldon, established two postulates:

  1. That the population whose behaviour was modeled should be sufficiently large
  2. They should remain in ignorance of the results of the application of psychohistorical analyses.

In creating automated intelligent interfaces to filter through the inprocessable amount of digital information we might just be on our way to do that...

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Eye Gaze Interaction

For those of us having problems navigating Second Life, there's some new technology about to hit the market.

The video shows eye gaze interaction with Second Life using our "Snap Clutch" software; developed at De Montfort University, UK in collaboration with University of Tampere, Finland. The software allows us to change quickly between
interaction modes to allow for a more real-time gaming experience. This research will be presented at ETRA 2008, US.

For more information on the project please visit: and

When looking at the video, I'm pretty impressed with the technology. However, when you've got both hands left, use them, as this is getting very passive.

Thanks to Pieter Bosch for the Tip.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008


Augmented Reality is something every geek has its opinion on. Dozens of researches spend millions of dollars on research how this augmentation will change our lives, how man and machine symbioses will improve our ways of working and which phsycological effects it will have.

Others just experiment, such as Tobias Lang. he displays how to merge 2 techniques, Virtual reality and Augmented reality, to create amazing Virtual World experiences

Sit back and enjoy.

Augmented Reality according to Wikipedia:

Augmented reality (AR) is a field of computer research which deals with the combination of real-world and computer-generated data. At present, most AR research is concerned with the use of live video imagery which is digitally processed and "augmented" by the addition of computer-generated graphics.

Advanced research includes the use of motion-tracking data, fiducial marker recognition using machine vision, and the construction of controlled environments containing any number of sensors and actuators.

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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
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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Monday, April 30, 2007

Adidas awareness

I'm just realising I left out an important blogpost. I've blogged Reebok and BBH earlier this month, but forgot to blog their neighbour, Adidas. I visited the sim, took a few snapshots but completely forgot to post it. There are two plausible explanations for this omission
  1. It was way past bedtime when I blogged Reebok and BBH
  2. The Adidas sim was just not good enough to be blogged.

Well, to be honest, I wasn't very enthausiastic about it. It was pretty much the same as Reebok, a shop with some shoes and nothing much of a so desired experience. When I think of Adidas I think of Steffi Graff sweating on Roland Garros or some other sporty event...

The reason I've added this post now is because there is something funny about Adidas. KZero blogged about brand perception in SL, based upon a research done by Reperes, a french market research agency (the one from the desing competition). The most remarkable result is that Adidas has scored highest with a 69% brand awareness.

Anyway, Adidas was brought to SL by the inevitable Rivers Run Red. However, it could be a German build as it is almost as white as the BMW and Toca Me designs.


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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Forrester Research

Last week I came across a study on Second Life by Forrester. In my line of work, Gartner, Giarte and Forrester are usually taken very seriously. Usually they know it and adjust their pricings accordingly.

In this case the study was about 10 pages text (and 5 pages notes, titlepage and credits and more bla bla) for a mere $ 750 (US dollar that is, not Lindens). Fortunately my boss picked up the tab :)

If compared to the Gartner study Forrester sees much of the same risks involved in SL business, though they've done a bit more research on the background and the evolvement of virtual worlds. Since it's priced at about $ 80,- per page, I presume they'll have my hide if I get into too much detail of the paper.

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