Jun 292010
 

Personalizemedia.com just posted a detailed look at a video entitled Augmented Worlds Video Part One – Recognition. The focus is looking specifically at the business model implications of the widespread use of a large tablet AR device and super fast, always on tagged/recognisable content. There are other videos in the series covering education, games & stories as well as utility near futures – but though it would be cool to cross post the video here too! Enjoy and read more about the video on the link above

AUGMENTED WORLDS Pt.1 - Business Opportunities: RECOGNITION.

An ‘iPad 4.0 – like prototype’ stroll around an augmented Sydney. Video, music devised & created by GARY HAYES of MUVEDesign.com – there are some key assumptions with this video detailed here –

ASSUMPTIONS WITH THIS CONCEPT

OK this tablet device with camera is running on a very fast connection, instant video and image so we are assuming city wide wifi or 4G type service connection. Also some elements pop up immediately so we can assume the user in the video (me) has setup some preferences or it has learned what type of service I like so it gives instant fulfilment vs dropping into endless menus (more on the interface next). Also the device is extremely aware of its location to a few inches, so we can assume that some of the ‘recognition’ elements are speeded up, being tied into precisely where the user is stood/orientated ‘combined’ with recognition – this will speed up the overall process vs using only Kooaba like Smart Visuals Recognition which puts a lot of pressure on server-side processing.

Notice on the  of the interface I have put the words “CONNECTED TO: Sydney CBD People and Places cached data” which is basically pointing out that the speed of recognition to data display is super accelerated when all information is pre-cached, and the way intelligent caching works means the more popular the ‘target’ the faster the response. Privacy – there are a few sequences here and in the longer video that show people being ‘recognised’. Obviously a real concern at the moment, so the concept video assumes the users being targeted have given their consent to outdoor recognition…I know this is a post in itself (see one of mine recently) but lets assume like TagWhat and FourSquare like services, users are allowing their ‘trusted’ friends and companies (for benefits) assess to being recognised – at least for the purposes of this concept!

Oct 232009
 

A cross-post from Gary Hayes’s Personalizemedia Site (with permission!) … As promised a more specific ‘commercial’ follow up to my previous post on this topic which was more ‘story’ centric. I am developing and producing a range of Augmented Reality (or if you prefer AR, ‘blended or layered media’) applications at the moment. I have also been asked to present at a few conferences and create a detailed white paper on the implications of AR for government & business looking at privacy, legal, copyright & crime issues. As readers of this blog will know I also lecture, run workshops and work with creative teams to come up with future ‘social entertainment’ based around virtual worlds and augmented reality.

But the purpose of this short post is to simply list and try to categorise the many types of business Augmented Reality apps appearing in the market. The first manifestations of AR appeared in the late 60s, became real in the 70s and by the 90s were already being used by major companies. Now portable computing is finally powerful enough to deliver AR to anyone who has a smart phone or latest generation PC or console. But first my simple definition of Augmented Reality.
Information, 3D models or live action blended with or overlaid onto the physical world in real time. A camera & attached screen is used to view the combination of reality & real time virtuality. Devices or systems commonly used for AR include

But the purpose of this pretty detailed post is to simply list and try to categorise the many types of business Augmented Reality apps appearing in the market and to try to identify opportunities.

Augmented Dollar

Augmented Reality Business by Gary Hayes

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Oct 182009
 

Because who used to be our audience are now co-creators and spending time across a sea of media and devices. This counter from MUVEDesign’s Gary Hayes gives a brief insight into the torrent of social and anti-social content that only the best professional transmedia properties will be heard above the noise. Contact MUVEDesign for a consultation!

May 262009
 

A cross-post from Gary’s main media site Personalizemedia

Tran-social-media-play [tran-soc-shuh-mee-dee-uh-pley] noun, verb

1 noun – a new form, a means of collaborative communication through play in constructed shared ‘media-rich’ environments

2 verb – taking part in game-like activity across and within online and offline social networks and media portals.

Can we truly create meaningful immersive media ‘experiences’ for others? Ones that last, are memorable, have impact & emotion and keeps the ‘experience players’ coming back for more? I am currently building services, working on papers and delivering courses on Experience Design and this post is a quick summation of some of the background thinking and good case studies.

Life is filled with so many exciting twists and turns. Hop off the straight and narrow whenever you can and take the winding paths. Experience the exhilaration of the view from the edge. Because the moments spent there, that take your breath away, are what make you feel truly alive. © 2000 Stacey Charter

Filmmakers and marketeers are clearly moving into #TranSocialMedia Play in a big way with a triple whammy at the moment of Star Trek, Terminator & Lost (fan) ARG’s and a raft of social media campaigns across other film and TV properties (some much better than others!). I have written about worlds immersion and cross-media design many times in the past but this post looks at the addition of social play into the mix – a permanent fixture.

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Mar 112009
 

Below are my introduction slides from ad:tech 2009 earlier this week. It is such a short time (each panel is given 50 minutes) to cover such a vast area and myself, Jeff (habbo.com.au) and Mitch (SmallWorlds.com) were all struggling to impart tons of great info/examples and have enough time to get interactive. I hogged the first 15 minutes by giving a broad overview and some examples I have been involved in that fitted the brief of the talk.

Below are my slides, a little descriptive text below that and at the bottom of this post some deeper insight into SmallWorlds (given most of my readers probably know Habbo already? – If not, Why Not!? ). I included one slide from Jeff Brookes set looking at Hitwise’s stats on browser worlds and other sites in terms of session length which will no doubt raise a few eyebrows!

Virtual Worlds & Business: What’s The ROI?

Virtual worlds are maturing at a rapid rate and brands are realising there are valuable business opportunities within them. Whether the objective is engagement, research or brand presence, virtual worlds are proving to be a legitimate marketing channel. In this session our panel will look to provide insights into the business benefits of working within a virtual world.

Presenters

  • Gary Hayes, Director, Laboratory for Advanced Media Production, AFTRS & CEO MUVEDesign (Australia’s leading SL developer!)
  • Jeff Brookes, Regional Director – Asia Pacific, Sulake Corporation (habbo.com.au)
  • Mitch Olson, Co-Founder, SmallWorlds.com

There were several important messages in my introduction. Firstly making sure we all understand the different platforms social virtual worlds are operating on so I briefly described

  1. Layered or Parallel worlds – cute 2D type avatars that move over the top of 2D web
  2. Browser Worlds – walled garden that run inside web browsers, often as isometric views as flash or shockwave
  3. Client Worlds – anything from 20MB to 3GB downloads of data and the world is obviously much richer than browser worlds but do need higher spec computers
  4. Console Worlds – a relatively new kid on the block, social spaces that exist on games consoles. All the rendering grunt is there and the avatars are often linked to the PS3, Wii or XBox360 real life account. PS3 Home is the easiest way to match to worlds like Habbo or There.com
  5. Note there are hybrids of the above and I would put ExitReality down as a hybrid of 1 and 3 as it turns a web page into a client style world

Here are the images of the above part of the presentation

worlds_platforms

I decided that a good ‘spine’ to hang the introduction on was the sort of negative questions floating around from those who don’t really understand what’s happening with web 3.0, the live virtual world space. This includes the paranoid printed press, a few out-of-touch businesses, and digital media companies/consultants more interested in iPhone/mobile games or Facebook widgets which is something they can truly explain (read: make money off).

Press hyperbole or myths?

  • Virtual Worlds are on the decline?
  • There’s no one in them?
  • & people don’t spend long there?
  • They are for kids or social ‘games’ not business?
  • There are no marketing models?

But I then addressed each question in turn showing real world stats and examples. Obviously in recession investment in new tech/services are going to be hit and recent reports do suggest a consolidation of investment into kids worlds, hinting at a lowering of VC in the ones I highlighted in my presentation, but this whole area is still something education & business are advised to R&D and understand fully – as a minimum. As we know it will be new ways of doing business, more immersive and efficient ways to collaborate and alternate forms of entertainment that will be partly what will bring us out of recession.

I finished the talk with a quick overview of the main models that virtual worlds (and most online games) can be monetized. Items 1, 3 and 4 were picked up in a talk on the 2nd day of ad:tech looking at how Nike engaged with console ingame campaign experts Massive across a few platforms.

  1. Static Advertising
  2. Promotions & Sponsored events
  3. Virtual Goods & Product Placement
  4. Dynamic InWorld Advertising
  5. Branded Spaces
  6. AdverWorlds & AdverGames

After my talk some great examples from Jeff Brookes from Habbo followed by Mitch from Smallworlds. I am always fascinated by the methods Habbo engages with its loyal and large community and was equally fascinated by Small worlds thinking too and how they are ‘integrating’ themselves with the existing 2D social networked web. This video by the infamous Robert Scoble features Mitch Olsen and Ted of SmallWorlds

They talk about the main traditional world features but then go onto the interesting areas of embeddable worlds (the Google Lively Killer app – not exploited), API integration with almost anything (twitter feeds, YouTube vids, FB updates on walls anyone) and the most interesting ‘missions’. You are encouraged to explore, meet folk, shop and basically get involved – Mitch says this is like the LinkedIn profile thinking, until your profile is 100% filled in you feel like you are missing out. I likened it much more like World of Warcraft, set players tasks, set them group tasks, give them rewards. This to me could be SmallWorlds real killer applet. At the moment they have around 400 000 users and that looks set to take off in the next months.

Tony Fendall blogged about a particularly cute feature that allows (his words) –

One important thing which was missed is that they didn’t have time to talk about all the cool micropayment features (which Ted alludes near the end) such as Gambit, OfferPal and Zong. Gambit and OfferPal are both services which allow users to earn SmallWorlds currency by completing tasks. These tasks include things such as answering surveys and give amounts of currency proportional to the amount of effort put in. This is a great way for players (who may not have a credit card) to still be able to earn a premium SmallWorlds experience. Zong is a simple cell phone payment service, where by users can pay for a premium SmallWorlds experience using their mobile phone. For an excellent look at how we have integrated Zong into SmallWorlds, check out this YouTube video created by the developers at Zong:

Note a cross post from Gary’s other main blog personalizemedia

Jan 192009
 

A presentation I gave last month at the Online Networking and Business Collaboration conference. This is one of twenty or so I did on a similar topic (engaging with virtual world inhabitants and game players) through 2008. The presentation broadly looks at 4 key areas

  1. The Actual Audience – who they are, what their demo and psychographics are
  2. The Market – dominant players, investment, in world currency and evident holes in the marketplace
  3. Some key case studies – what has worked, how things could be improved and
  4. A little bit about branded entertainment futures and how Virtual worlds will be more ‘merged’ with TV, film and the 2D social web.

virtual_world_shopping_hayesCase studies included Best Buy, McDonalds, Nivea (Splinter Cell), MTV There, STA Travel, Fosters, Accenture, ABC, Intel, Jeep, Dodge, Habbo, Big Brother, Kelly Services, Gossip Girl, L Word, Football Superstars, Webkinz, Barbie Girls, Stardolls, BBC, blast theory,virtual office, club penguin, vside, little big planet, weblin, rocketon, imvu, ps3 home, second life (various including The Pond)
There are more presentations under the LAMP & Project Factory umbrella across social media, new form entertainment and virtual worlds at Gary’s slideshare account.

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Jan 182009
 

An Australian project (initiated at a 2007 LAMP@AFTRS (Laboratory for Advanced Media Production) residential) called “Macbeth:What If” received further development/production funding from the NMC and the Australia Council. Project creator Kerreen Ely-Harper teamed up with producer Kate Richards and designer Angela Thomas to realise the original project, that built on the original project idea looking at the experiential teaching and awareness of Shakespeare’s works using Second Life. After a year or so of development they created an island in Second Life which also focuses on machinima creation in a rich virtual setting.

The video below is quick & cheerful, one-take, ‘Space Navigator’ Machinima and Music by Gary and the whole work was very similar in style and form to Thursday’s Fictions in Second Life, a MUVEDesigned project two years ago. Full credits for the Macbeth project below.

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Sep 082008
 

As part of a commercial report on the evolving range of social virtual worlds I recently ventured into fifty plus worlds to sample the creative, business and educational potential. My video is an indicative capture of each world/environment as a seven minute video for 2008 posterity. It demonstrates how ubiquitous, popular and streamlined many of these spaces are becoming across the intraweb / ‘cloud’. With over 300 million frequenting or registering for the non-game based worlds over $900 million of new investment last year in 2nd and 3rd generation services there seems to be no stopping them.

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

A few immediate things that struck me on my travels:

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Jul 082008
 

A video insight into the build process of the new Deakin Arts Education Centre Island built and designed by MUVEDesign’s Gary Hayes completed early 2008.

Jenny Grenfell, Arts Lecturer at Deakin said:

“This Deakin University Arts Education community in Second Life aims to stir the imagination. It is a world we create and create within. It is at once a work of art and a place to inspire, make, share and present art. Our presence in SL is both for performance and is in itself a performance.

Our Second Life existence is an extension of our involvement in the real world where we are passionately immersed in the practices of teaching and learning in our art forms of visual art, drama, music, dance, and media.”

Medium rez 105MB MP4 available here. Music composed and performed by Gary Hayes. These images with comments can be seen here.

Video, music & 447 Images © Gary Hayes and Deakin University

Below is the flickr slideshow embedded as an alternative

Jan 032008
 

.
Virtual Worlds Necessitate Corporations Develop Personality followed by Gary’s top 15 tips to becoming human in the metaverse (and 2D socio-nets).

I have been doing a lot of work moving brands, properties and companies into Second Life recently and in the process I am often forcibly reminded of the divide that naturally exists, in these new worlds, between ‘the corporation’ on one hand and ‘the individual/community’ on the other. The 3D Virtual World is being used in many ways by the natives (aka the public, a bad definition I know), living out their fantasies in a very chaotic but social way. In strong contrast to that we have companies who are naturally bland, characterless, faceless and in the worse cases anti-social.

American Apparel

It is not all bad as we are seeing something very positive emerging and being played out as both sides manouver and become better aligned. We are also seeing the next phase as the early mistakes pull out and leave the new entrants to learn from those errors. So I have collected some of my thoughts below on how companies need to approach the development of their personality.

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Oct 122007
 

From the Telstra media release 9 March 2007

“BigPond enters “Second Life” virtual world – BigPond today launched Australia’s first major corporate presence in the online virtual world, Second Life, with the unveiling of ‘The Pond’. The Pond features islands with uniquely Australian themes and recreations of iconic Australian landmarks such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Sydney Opera House, the Outback and Uluru. On the islands, ‘avatars’, the 3D virtual characters that people create to represent themselves in Second Life, can enjoy a range of activities including car racing, scuba diving and ice skating. At The Pond, avatars can socialise, join communities with shared interests, go shopping together at The Dome Shopping Mall, and even go dancing at the Illusion Club. They can take a boat trip or relax and have a drink in the Outback Billabong Bar. The 3D nature of Second Life enables full participation – so avatars won’t just look at the Sydney Harbour Bridge, they’ll climb it…This project was developed and produced by Gary Hayes…”

Built very quickly over 5 weeks in Jan/Feb 2007 and launched in March 2007, it was within months the most popular branded group sims in Second Life.

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May 122007
 

NOTE: Based on my sticky post ‘The Brand Owners Guide to Joining the Metaverse“.

As promised a rough transcript of my keynote talk to CeBit last week based on my experience of actually building some Second Life sims, talking to those who use them and creating branded environments that have more usage than any others inworld, so far. There will be a video and/or podcast at some point from CeBit TV but for now lots of ‘nice’ words and this YouTube video I uploaded…


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Feb 042007
 

or thirteen commandments for organisations considering becoming stars in the new web 3.0 revolution…

Originally posted here on one of Gary’s other blogs personalizemedia.

I have mentioned before that I am currently working on a couple of major and one or two minor media companies first forays into the metaverse, or its most accessible incarnation Second Life. I can’t talk about them directly of course pre-launch so I thought why not create a ‘simple’ guide for brand owners using a couple of recent Second Life launches AOL (today) and the LWord (last week). What follows are thirteen basic principles for brand and property owners as they create a virtual presence in any multi user virtual environment which really came about from my own work in the past year considering what works and what doesn’t, combined with an observation of some of the ‘commonalities’ in many recent more mature brand launches. Some of this also cross relates to a post I did mid last year on how to achieve immersion and these are not focussed on ‘formats’ or new forms of entertainment that I cover elsewhere.

I have chosen AOL and LWord because the former is quite a broad media company without a clear single identity and the LWord because it is has a very narrow and defined identity but also as I was the line producer on an eTV version a couple of years ago. Another reason is that both are implemented by Electric Sheep and it is obvious they are developing their own little ‘format’ bible. The recent entries inworld from NBC, Reuters, Dell, Endemol (Big Brother) and MTV on the there.com platform all follow these basic principles which I illustrate below – some more than others. This will be a broad brushstrokes introduction as I don’t want to put the growing number of companies and one-avatar-and-their-virtual-dog operations out of business. I also don’t expect any self respecting brand to try to do this without contracting a company with significant experience either, the social, environmental, game/play, scripting, design aspects of this are very unchartered and it is critical to engage those who at least have some semblance of a map. Anyway on we go.

01brandmeta0371 Don’t Become Virtual Just Because You Can

By way of an introduction a cautionary note. Sure there is a certain PR cache, trendy or super cool in being one of the first to participate a new kid on the emerging media block. Every second week there is a new ‘celebrity’ entrant and although I personally think in the medium/long term these worlds will be come commonplace for business, entertainment and education, we should view most of the current raft of services as experiments. The old ‘build it and they will come’ adage is risky at the moment when there is only around 40-50 000 concurrent users across all the fully rendered avatorial based ‘non-game’ virtual worlds. There are a lot of empty streets across the ‘branded’ grid and these early entrants are either in for the strategic long haul or just grabbing a smaller and smaller slice of the Second Life press pie. On the positive side though the learning that comes from each incremental new service is part of building a robust and longer term metaverse for all. There are many who say SL is purely about sex or money (just like the real world then, big revelation there) and that brands are not invited. I used to have the same view until I realised that without some form of organisational presence, educational purpose or celebrity event Second Life was really going nowhere – a glamourised chat room. New ‘brand’ entrants need to realise that they are to a great extent last minute guests at a party and as such need to bring something significant to it. It doesn’t have to be about sex or money but it should definitely be about new experiences and play.

2 Make Joining Simple, Accessible and Branded

One could think of Second Life particularly as the walled garden portal that hosts the content that comes from individuals and companies/organisations. A sign of maturity is creating a way for niche or interest audiences a way to participate without their feet actually touching the ‘aggregator’. So we are seeing as in the L Word example below ways to use exposed APIs to register and download the client without going to Second Life at all. This simplifies the relationship initially for these existing brand loyal audiences, sure it gets complicated later when they realise there is a sea of potentially more interesting ‘stuff’ in lorry loads, but the entry is far more elegant.
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3 Once In World – Hold Their Hand, With Your Brand

A third part making the ‘birthing’ process easier for ‘newbs’ is to drop them into familiar surroundings. Their beloved stars (in the case of L Word) telling them how to get the best out of the world. The Linden orientation is simply a ‘tech manual’ approach, its fun, but is still about which buttons to press, the L Word version is ultimately clearer, because most of it is about making your avatar look presentable.
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You can see other orientation islands and in the foreground here a simple circular path with very, very basic instructions. Given the audience are likely to be the metro-sexual crowd, we must expect lots of time to preen their avatars. It would have been good to incorporate this as part of the main environment, but I suppose this could be considered the dressing room and rehearsal space before ‘going on air’, where you are the star.
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In my experience many RL people spend the majority of their first week tweaking their image, quite naturally, so the L Word (E Sheep) have provided as you can see in the last image in this category four orientation islands, just in case there is a sudden rush of a couple of hundred avatars. Really that is the fourth ‘entrance’ tip, make sure you can handle a rush for the door. People who are bounced rarely return so have enough ‘welcome’ zones, just in case.

BrandMeta03d

4 Design Multiple Levels of Navigation

When people arrive in the main environment you should think of it as a metaphorical homepage. You must make several things clear. All that’s available for them to do (not consume), how to get to these places, a feel of the ‘world’ they are entering and lots and lots of ‘why’ they should stay and explore. The welcome/arrival area should ideally have eyeline to the main sites too. So central and raised is the usual deal. AOL’s environment feels a little like a Disney-type theme park (fun fair) and is laid out that way. Its general theme of entertainment is echoed in the overall consistent colour palette, the signage, the walkways and slight sense of discovery – if everything is telegraphed there is the alternative problem that avatars will think they don’t need to explore cause the labelling is too ‘samey’. This could be an issue with AOL’s signage below – which is a shame cause they do have a few surprises – see point 7.

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5 Decide Early On Your USP

I am glad to announce that the last few ‘brands’ that have entered Second Life have moved away from building the office blocks and sticking their logo on the outside, with only a very slight nod to where they are. Thanks to developers who are growing in experience virtually all the new entrants have one or two new things, never before seen. Some are very superficial, some are just ‘ the best implementation of…”. AOL have decided to create a few ‘lets be the best at that…” items such as a fully branded skate-boarding area.

BrandMeta05a

Complete with piped Real Life skateboard championships as you tumble around the heavily graffiti park. One wonders about sport in SL. This is a long way from Tony Hawks as the performance of SL servers and client are just not up to it (unless really optimised – meaning a whole sim to skateboarding only). So these are social spaces, skateboard for a few minutes, then find a corner and chat about it. This must be built in and planned for. See later.

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Another fun item which falls in the ‘only one in SL’ bracket could be this other simple offering from AOL, the avatar ‘sticky wall. ‘Physical’ activity needs to be sprinkled across any offering, forcing quests and mind games all very important. This is about delivering an eclectic range of services vs something too narrow in focus.

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One of the L Words USPs is the speed dating tables in the central part of their main island. This feels much like Big Brother that I blogged about earlier in that it is an already unnatural social interplay now with the added layer of being virtual and partly anonymous. I haven’t tried speed dating in SL but I suspect inside the ‘virtuality’ of L Word and (as you can see on the instructions here) if it is moderated well, it could be a great way to meet ‘new’ friends. SL is like any ‘club/bar’ situation not an ideal way of finding romantic or like-minded partners, Showtime are moving in the right direction with this.

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Torrid Midnight of the SecondCast team and a leading fashion designer, is one of the first to try out the skateboard park which launched today.

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6 Make sure the Environment has Synergy with the Brand

Now we can all imagine (I have been there hundreds of times) the discussions that take place when a group sits down to make any existing property ‘immersive’. The ‘we could do that!’, how about recreating one of those and so on. Many metaverse entrants insist on identical duplication, or model building of corporate buildings (NBC Rockefeller) or the actual TV sets as in the L Words version of the Planet Cafe below.

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I am not going to dwell to much on over representational builds as I covered that in a post a year ago, but just to say that there are two ways to go here and the middle ground is the dangerous one. The brand should either be in your face and as precise a copy as possible of something that clearly represents the brand (or the context) or something such as Vodaphone’s build (a large megaphone, hearing aid) slightly surreal and tiping their hat to this ‘naturally’ strange world, where anything, seriously is possible. I still yawn a bit at the endless brick walled buildings, blue glass and ‘mall’ness to many of the current builds, but I am also aware first hand of the number of suits in companies who ‘need’ something recognisable and enough branded signs scattered around the place. As an example the easiest option would be for say a French brand to place a model of the Eiffel Tower on their sims, the more brave route is to create something ‘new’ and unique, a place you enjoy going back to. I personally have ‘done’ the real Eiffel tower on at least five trips, I have no real urge to do it again but I absolutely love the ‘essence’ of the French countryside such as Provence though. I wont go on as I will be exploring environmental identity in virtual worlds and what makes some more sticky than others, in a Terra Nova post in the next couple of months.

7 Be Sensitive to The World – Playful, Deliver Expectation and Have Depth

Now for the key ingredients for all new entrants into these spaces. It must deliver expected features in ‘island’ sims such as shops, cinemas/screens, dance areas and even branded things to buy. It is no different than being a tourist to a distant island and feeling that the environment is self-contained. Another major requirement is all visitors need to play/do and even in a ‘no rules’ game like Second Life, you can create smaller, casual games, particularly social ones.

Here AOL provide the staple branded clothing. I have never seen any figures in how many people actually buy this stuff, but I have also never seen avatars wearing non-fashion branded clothing (apart from Torrid above). Perhaps I need to get out more 😉

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The quiz in the AOL sim is really good fun. It feels like interactive TV inside a virtual world. Simple multiple choice (the four colour selector – just like fast text keys in UK iTV), timer based questions and a top scorer board on the left. This would be great in a more ‘organic’ pub environment vs the rather board room look and feel here.

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Virtually all new branded sims have the dance club/bar combination. For the L Word it works very well and when I was there, it had a constant churn of people. I think part of it is just checking out for reference what are the best clubs to landmark but part of this one is the obvious lesbian overtones. Yes all the avatars in there were female. The club itself was pretty dark and dismal and not on my return list.

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The layout of the L Word sim I found a little disappointing. It had a similar feel to the there.com Laguna Beach (I blogged about in Sept), as the stores and buildings were just a little spread out and hidden. Even flying you felt things were disconnected and fragmented. It is important to make sure that although avatars will expect stores, and appropriate ones, that they should be integrated and not glued on as an afterthought.

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Most of the shops for the L Word were indeed skins, clothes and various relationship ‘toys’.

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8 Make the Experience as Personal as Possible

As I have indicated before in my web 3.0 posts, inside these worlds there is already a rampant web 2.0 paradigm. Avatars want to share and blog their experiences (I know I do whenever I get time). So in any build that has that first ‘wow’ factor about it, make sure there are enough places that allow the users to get the word out (that’s assuming you want traffic). The actual SL interface has much of this built in, but it is buried inside profiles and not where most viewing is – in the real web 2.0 world. So AOL have set up simple sets to take pictures of yourself and drop them onto the AOL blog site. In fact there are a few points where they encourage this, the sticky wall for example. To drive traffic to your virtual space you need to have lots and lots of content placed outside in the web 2.0 space.

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One of my favourite bits of the AOL sim from a personalization perspective is the walk of stars for two reasons. One of them is the first picture on this post, a way to leave your mark, collect a copy of the star (because it will be erased by the next avatar of course) and take your picture just like a real ‘star’. The other thing that impressed me was the way a path can be made compelling. I spent as much time reading all the funny SL variants or real world stars names than I did in the whole rest of the sim. Partly because there were a few chucklers, partly because of the depth (a lot of effort from the Electric Sheep had gone into thinking them up as Johnny Ming told me) but mostly because they felt more integrated than everything else. They were embedded in the environment vs being stuck on or in like everything else.

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9 If You Are Going to Provide Content Give Enough Choice

As a brand AOL is known as a kind of one-stop-entertainment-shop. So it was no surprise to see lots and lots of content in the various viewing halls and on screens in hidden corners. There was some disconnect here though as the sign outside in the first picture here says ‘millions of high quality videos’ and once inside the option is from a rolling list of about ten. So the outside the environment corporate message is lost inworld. The two have to be aligned. A message like the ‘worlds largest new network’ over a two floor brick office inworld, has a disconnect. Make the inworld messages appropriate and have a proportional scale and those that refer to the real world, clearly make that obvious.

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10 Make Inworld Advertising as Integrated as Possible

Companies have seemed to be a little nervous about product placement and advertising from other companies in their spaces. This seems odd to me as in many situations such as the skateboard park below adverts actually work very well, especially ones for inworld services. I suspect that the ad departments in the respective companies look at the raw numbers and think that 3rd party adds will dilute their brand. I suspect there is a little truth in that, but a world without adverts embedded in places you expect them becomes quite paradoxically empty and missing something. This is not a flip-flop statement for me because I have always said ‘appropriate’ advertising vs ads rotating on fifty meter hoardings above residential areas, or above malls dropped alongside a peaceful beach retreat.

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11 Be There In Person, Communicate and Learn

Any entrant into these worlds must, and I stress this, must have a constant personal presence. This is not the web. Put up your website and sit back and watch the page views, this is real people expecting to talk to the creators or the brand owners or especially the stars (or people role playing the stars). For AOL’s launch today we have Morton from Electric Sheep and Johnny Ming (of SecondCast again) and now Electric Sheep too. Both are happy to talk but their primary reason for being there is too see how things are used, if people are not getting to their ‘jewel’, how long they spend on the ‘activity’ that they thought would keep them occupied for hours and so on. Never before have we had this sort of ‘research detail’. This is the equivalent of getting inside the mind of the person using your homepage or site for the first time. You can follow them around, ask them why they went left rather than right. I won’t go on cause this will be another Terra Nova post when I am guest there in a month or so.

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Adam Ramona and I chat with Johnny Ming about making Second Cast a little more arty, amongst other things.

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12 Have as Much Content as Possible Inworld and Not on Weblinks

OK. Second Life is a pain when it comes to getting content into it. I spend most of my time importing textures (images to place around sites), sounds and animations. Getting web pages and RSS feeds is clunky to say the least. The easiest option is to just link out of SL to the default web browser of the user. There are no alternatives to this really but the temptation should be avoided to make every single item a link to a web browser, because simply the user will realise that the place is actually quite empty as they are spending most time on an external website. This is not rocket science. The user has made a concious decision to boot up a resource intensive 3D virtual world browser and not to browse the fast super efficient 2D web. They want social interchange and experiential activity not a bunch of branded web pages. Just as people say ‘oh I could never watch a full length feature film on my mobile’ there are several truths here. Avatars:
1 Will not click through and read more than a few pages of text on ‘your’ site.
2 They will generally will not watch long form movies, unless it is a pre-arranged social gathering. Short 1-4 mins only
3 Previews of audio and video are best, but make sure there is enough there to surprise them and ‘make’ them want to click to the web to discover more and possibly buy
4 Will only blog and send pictures to external sites (yours and theirs) if it is transparent and simple in your space. Take a picture, click this button, chat your blog text. Anything that involves putting notecards into objects, or crossing to a webpage forget it.
5 Enjoy anything that has a live’ness, a happening now in the real and virtual world. The nearer to a database driven website the virtual space is the more of a turnoff it will be. Sims should have lots of randomness scattered about. Sound that changes and shifts, images that tick over on ad hoardings, a sense of life, creatures and so on. This to me is all about content as well. Organising events on a regular basis is fine but they need to join your main group and this should be a priority at the beginning.

For brands that have no specific identity such as AOL, then something may have to be created for them. A virtual world incarnation of their 2D web ‘portal’ness, which I mentioned earlier. They went for the entertainment themepark, they could have easily gone for a vision of the future or a journey into the past, something abstract and unworldly, played with scale or just recreated a part of San Francisco.

13 Give the Environment Identity Make Social Activity Easy

My self agreed 90 minute blog time is up sadly so I will finish on this last point about social spaces in virtual worlds, which again will be part of a few posts on other more prominent blogs. The number of cafes, cinemas, meeting rooms, lecture theatres, living rooms and so on that are completely empty, yet just outside the door are groups of avatars happily chatting away, staggers me. Developers, including myself sometimes, put great effort into lots of interior detail, to then find later no one is using it. We imagine scenes of avatars role playing, or at least imagining they are really in those places, yet there is something quite claustraphobic about these ‘realistically’ enclosed spaces in many cases (as an aside I tend to build broad stuctures with very high ceilings (usually domes) if I want a sense of ‘indoor’ness). Unless there is an organised event at the auditoriums, cinemas and cafes they are usually empty. Design social spaces outdoors or at the very least give them an outdoor feel. Avatars in Second Life can fly and to block this 3rd dimension of travel makes many feel uncomfortable and disabled. It was interesting to be party too the types of conversations, when collecting some images for this post and checking out the new sites – the difference between AOL and L Word. The L Word group below were discussing intimate aspects of lesbianism and societies labelling of single gender relationships while in the L Word stores couples were shopping as if in real ‘L’ life – most kept referring back to the L Word and what was going on in the show or how it is being manifest here. On the AOL site the conversations I participated in were very broad, all topics, no focus and none of them referred back to AOL, apart from the media types who were prowling. Perhaps part of that was due to the fact that like Big Brother the L Word already has a ‘social’ expectation of its participants and back to point one above, if your brand is not already a conduit for a part of the global conversation, don’t expect it to become one in the metaverse.

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Posted by Gary Hayes ©2007

Dec 122006
 

The Relentless March of Channels and Formats into Second Life

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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.

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Sep 122006
 

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

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