Webflock by the ESC

I was tempted to do lots of Flocking jokes in the title of this, but I will leave that as an excercise for the reader. I had a chat today with Giff and Swords from Electric Sheep Company anout their virtual world product/service that they have created called Webflock. There is a much richer description on this page.
Image from http://www.electricsheepcompany.com/
I think the natural thing with all the Googleness around with Lively is to make a comparison, but I think that is a rather misguided one as there really is not that much similarity once you drill down.
Webflock is Flash based, so yes runs in a browser. I agree this may be regarded as “not a plugin” as its so pervasive, though technically it is and still needs patching when adobe updates it, but it is a very standard plugin so thats a good thing. It uses papervision3d as part of the rendering engine. Its intended use is for branded experiences with a very low barrier to entry. In many ways this is the same challenge that we face in the CIO in IBM. There is a balance to be had between just letting people get in quickly, to experience something avatar based, with video and a small degree of interaction and a fully immersive, user generated content 3d world.
Being flash based Webflock is able to be driven from javascript in other pages, hence allowing for on glass integration with other web applications, rather than inserting the application in the environment. Though video is able to be played (and presumably any elements that flash wants to deal with too)
Its a very interesting model and direction to take. For those of use already immersed and bought in it may seem a step backwards, but I have certainly experienced the need for some of the steps to need to be slightly smaller for the vast majority of people, so this may just be the right way to go.
It can of course evolve, having a seperate backend system “Aspen” as the model and sometimes controller in this Model View Controller (MVC) application is an architecture that many of us techies are used to.
Some other interesting features we talked about was the emdebbing of game related content. Being able to initiate a quiz where you have to alk to the answer. This is very easy to do, may be slower than a quick click of a question but gets people considering the 2.5d space and moving around in it. The real interesting parts are when that is not simply a HUD for one person but a view shared by all. This is possible with the underlying model.
The system is designed as part of the more normal tool chain you might expect for web development. It is not currently aimed at excessive user customization, though no doubt that will creep in as its not long into grokking this that people want to do that as we have found inside IBM too.
So it does have the potential for a private view of the world, and a public shared view of the world.
Expect more in the next few months as some projects come on line. I look forward to seeing how these targetted customer spaces work and fill a gap to get even more people understanding the richness of human communication possible over the web. (its not all facebook you know)

Last Post

It’s my last day in the office today before I leave IBM, so it’s time to have a final cup of tea (and pint of something stronger) with my many friends at Hursley. To mark the occasion, I spent last night building Lego representations of the Emerging Technology Services team, with whom I’ve had such a great three years. Several of them are contributors to Eightbar, and as well as everyone’s individual blogs (Twitter, Flickr, etc) of course I will be following Eightbar closely after I’ve gone to stay in touch with what’s interesting at IBM.


Thanks for everything.

Private beta access to Shapeways 3d printing community

For anyone interested out there in the 3d printing community Shapeways have a first come first serve access to their private beta (which we are not affiliated to in any way other than interested).
On a first come first serve basis
BetaCode: EightBar8
You can also follow them on twitter
I will let you know how I get on making some 3d eightbar products.

Yet more 3d Printing

I am a big fan of 3d printing . I tend to use it as an example of the next stages of virtual world interoperability with the real world. So when I see a new service pop up I always like to follow it (having not purchased my own printer yet as all my personal investment money is still in Second Life)
This video just popped up on youtube for Shapeways I have signed up for the beta and will see what happens.

PS3 Home vs Xbox 360 new look dashboard vs Nintendo Mii

The explosion of avatar based interaction outside of the context of an actual game is well and truly on a roll at the moment. It is akin to when evrything and everyone started to allow profile pictures. These pictures are of course a low grade avatar expression of a persons intent towards you and a system. Inside IBM we have a corporate bluepages, everyone has a space for a picture. It is intended to be a recognizable passport style. However use of it it broken into 1/3 regular pictures, 1/3 expressive, different and innovative pictures and 1/3 no picture at all. I have many conversations around this. (The numbers are not actual numbers btw, just classifications of people). It seems there is a percentage of any population that just does not want to let you know anything about them, they either dont have time, inclination or ability to share. The other 2/3 though are more interesting and whilst may seem to be opposing camps they are willing to share something of who they are online in a particular domain. It would be great to be able to have more than one picture, a straight laced on and an expressive one to further explore who people are and get a sense of them before meeting or talking.
Of course this is where the avatars burst into life. The gaming community is used to some of this expression from within the games. This is now very much bleeding out into the lobby, and going cross game experience.
The Mii’s started to let people created a persistent character when playing in a game. They allow a degree of portability, carrying the Mii around in a WiiMote to a friends house, or travelling around via the slightly over regulated(IMHO) friend system. The problem is the connection to others is not really there online, though is certainly there when all crowded around a TV.
The PS3 Home system promises to enable every PS3 owner to have an immersive virtual world experience, share content, provide game lobby brokering, win new avatar and room related things in games etc. At the moment the PS3 experience online is not great in terms of conncetion to others. The friends list is a bit light, just an icon and a sense you might connect with people in a game somewhere. Recent patches start to change this, but it is a long way behind in terms of feeling of being connected.
The 360 has Live, and this really does seem to have been an integrated community success. You feel always signed on and connected, in game, out of game, watching a DVD. The comms and invites to places, tracking friends achievements and a whole host of other things feel really good. The player pictures from games or from cameras work as an expressive low grade avatar. Of course now after E3 we know that the flat almost web2.0 experience of Xbox live is going to have the brightness turned up on it with avatars. It is a combination of the Mii and Home but will just be there in the autumn no fuss no bother. There is a (not very good) press release page here the videos dont seem to work. So lets hope for a smoother release on XBL.
As per usual all the companies are influenced by one another, trends sweep through, but I think the underlying need we seem to have (atleast 2/3 of us) for digital representations to be more rich is the interesting point.

Unity3d gets even better

Rob just called me over to talk about Unity3D. A newer version has been released onto the world and it looks very exciting for development of virtual worlds MMO’s and all the metaverse things we have come to love.
Rob has been doing some Unity exploration for a little while now, and a few other colleagues from over the pond are excited about it too. Anyway, check out the website for the new range of features that they have rolled in. Grab yourself a Mac and get developing (of course it will run on anything just the IDE is Mac only).
Yes its a plugin when you are browser based, but so is Lively and so is anything with Flash (just the flash plugin often comes as standard on browsers) in fact the browser is a plugin for your operating system.
Rob’s demo has all sorts of mini features already that are of interest from a proof of concept. Object creation, cubes, cylinders, sphere and an odd capsule shape that causes much amusement.
There will be more to come on this thread of investigation. I will of course have to get a Mac now to help too.

Virtual Policy 08 Conference – Car boot sales and micropayments

Ren’s BERR sponsored virtual policy ’08 event the past two days has been a very intense and informative time. Aside from catching up with some of the metarati there has been a meeting of minds from all sorts of places. Companies, government bodies, lawyers, regulators, standards bodies, games companies and educators.
Virtual Policy '08
The crux of the conference was to discuss how various govenrment and governence bodies could be brought up to speed on some of the issues around subjects related to all forms of virtual world (and related) environments.
There were numerous presentations around IP law, child protection, financial transactions and governance frameworks as well as general innovation (Jim’s panel that I spoke on)
I found alot of the content very interesting, more as a user and someone experienceing the diffuculties surrounding the global and esoteric nature of both games and virtual worlds, combined with the needs of business, consumer protection and morality.
Nothing was black and white in its description. The aim of the conference was to indicate that in multiple fields of interest to help form some sort of approach to take to all this.
I did particulalry enjoy hearing Richard Bartle speak. He is obviously the co-inventor of all things virtual worldy. Hearing his free ranging speech with his experience and perspective was very cool. I think I agreed with much of it in general, though as with all oppinions there were a few things that were there to provoke dicussion. Richard was right to point out the important of games. The business of games is something that is still regarded as a dirty word. However he did indicate that that was changing generationally. Anyone born after 1969 (or slightly earlier in my case) will pretty much have been exposed to games. They are not all mad axe murderers, and are now raising their own kids. So populist press and politicians who continue to rail against gaming as a valid form of activity will very soon be pushed into obscurity.
Richard Bartle at VP '08
Richard also made his points about some virtual worlds like Second Life are places not games. In particular I liked the quote “Second life is a place, its like Luton, you can play games in Luton but Luton is not a game”. This analogy got more comical in a later panel on the financial implications of virtual worlds. The current virtual economy relative to the enite economy is very small (though growing very fast). At the moment the virtual economy is “Like a car boot sale”. So Second Life is a car boot sale in Luton. (That takes some of the trendy sheen from it, but it made me laugh)
Also intresting was that many of the closed sessiosn I was in were under chatham house rules (which is why I am only really reporting on the more public conversations and sessions). An off the record, but on the record set of conversations.
These sessions forced me to consider a great many dilemmas, and also to formulate some sensible discussion. It felt very West Wing to discuss things that clearly can’t co-exist as ideas, yet the practicalities of life mean they do.
I did suggest an idea that needs to be expanded upon around micro payments. This relates not only to virtual worlds, but to the growing number of small web2.0 startups and cloud computing based startups.
Currently to set up anything to take any sort of payments and offer service has a whole host of excessive regulation and costs associated. This is for good reasons, but does not fit with the need to sell a digital service for fractions of a pence to millions of people. The Long Tail has not reached financial and business governance. One reason Second Life has been so interesting for people is precicely that, there is an evironment to do micro payments (but in the environment).
This allows innovation and experimentation without huge outlay or hassle.
If a government or country or organization was able to be a haven for the fledgling industries that wanted to deal in micropayments, without the immense hassle (whilst still maintaining elements of business and consumer protection) they could stimulate an entire economy and entreprenaurial spirit.
If I have a quick idea, and I want to host it, sell it and see how it grows I have only 2 real options today. 1) Set a large price (£5-£10), like a subscription for a service or 2) Use a freemium model until people want to pay the subscription and hit 1)
There is not a suitable technical and legal and supported framework in wide spread use to allow me to 3) Set up a service charging 0.001p for each access to it.
There are issues to be addressed here, but I think this is what the world might need. In a way this is interoperability for money.
It was also good to catch up with some people I only have met on twitter or in Second Life. Dizzy Banjo, Mal Burns to name but two. It was also great the event was streamed into SL for other people to enjoy and interact by asking question (atleast on our panel 🙂 )
Finally in my mini brain dump, I was interested to catch up with Chritsian Renaud on his latest endeavour, whilst discussing leaving the shackles of corporate life and of course Roo’s move too.
Xianrenaud is now the CEO of Technology Intelligence Group applying insight to very early emerging technologies by gathering industry heavy weights together.
It is always interesting for a Linden to be at these events too. In this case Babbage on the right below. They have to cope with both adoration, suspicion and competition from so many people.
As well as some gaming greats, like Eve-Online being represented I learned of an MMO that I had not come across, Roma Victor. The MMO games often touch on areas that maybe the more place like VW’s dont. e.g. in Eve you are supposed to rob and steal, basically be a space pirate (massive over simplification there). In Roma Victor you are in an accurate recreation of a time gone by, so some bad things happen that may offend, though have been represented in films and books and tales for years.
The make up of the conference was very diverse and all the better for it. Ren Reynolds (on the left below) contacts and interests and shoes made this all possible, so once again thanks Ren.
Ren and Jim

Another day another Virtual Worlds speaking gig

I should have blogged this earlier, but I now realize that Ren Reynold’s Virtual Policy ’08 conference is next Tuesday/Wednesday in London. There are a whole host of speakers and panelists including yours truly.
Ren is the founder of the virtual policy network amongst other things and as such is advisor to BERR(The Department of Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform)
When Ren calls we all generally say yes in support. So expect to see a host of UK and worldwide metarati take the stage. I am on the innovation panel with Jim/Babbage
15:30 – 17:00 Innovation & Virtual Worlds
– Dr Jim Purbrick – Linden Lab
– Ian Hughes – IBM
– Oliver Goh – Business Development Executive
Implenia Global Solutions
– Dick Davis – Ambient Performance
– Gia Rossini – Sloodle
I notice also a certain name involved in recent changes in the metaverse world a certan Christian Renaud (ex Cisco) is also coming to do the closing address so it will be good to catch up.
There is also a Facebook event page if you like that sort of thing. (I am still a bit annoyed at them after the Wimbledon incident)
BTW there is still time to vote for eightbar (or Roo 🙂 )

Losing a Metaverse Evangelist from IBM

I have had to write a lot of posts recently wishing people good luck, but this one is the hardest. As some of you may have already seen on twitter or elsewhere Roo is leaving IBM and heading for the BBC
He is off to do a fantasticly exciting role and I really do wish him the best of luck. The ironic thing is that we are likely to end up working together more as we can be in the same place at the same time as opposed to being two IBMers who seldom need to do a gig together as we are interchangeable.
Personally I will miss Roo a great deal. The past 2 1/2 years of upward struggle getting support for virtual worlds and building this eightbar mini-brand have been both rewarding and incredibly frustrating at the same time. Turning a few hours in Second Life into a massive movement and business opportunity for one of the worlds largest technology companies is no mean feat. I think we have achieved something that would not have been possible individually. IBM has a great position in virtual worlds like Second Life, Opensim et al, and hopefully we have maintained the spirit and credibility that we lay down as founders of eightbar out there in metaverse land.
What does this mean for Eightbar? Well we have always been diverse and there is more to Eightbar that metaverses (look at the author list). Eightbar has also always been a very different attitude to things and Roo may be leaving IBM but is forever Eightbar.
What does this mean for Roo? New challenges, freedom to explore, changing company brings a fresh view of one’s worth.
What does this mean for me? I guess the jury is out on that one. There is still a long way to go on the metaverse journey wherever that happens to take place. I am not really the only evangelist in the village now though. Lots of people are up and running on this and taking it places it needs to be taken.
I think a more fitting tribute to Roo will be forthcoming, this is just a placeholder to let the world know if you dont already.
Take care there Roo, its been a blast.