Archive for the ‘Metaverses’ Category

Gaming and the ‘3-D’ Internet

August 6, 2007

First the news:

Microsoft announced a partnership with NASA to use its Photosynth 3-D application to provide users with interactive images of the upcoming Space Shuttle Endeavor launch. There’s also a related Photosynth tour of the Kennedy Space Center. In June Microsoft and the BBC announced a similar collaboration to offer Photosyth imagery of British architecture for the show “How We Built Britain.” (More at SEL.)

And in the “I can’t write about everything category,” last week Disney bought kids’ “virtual world” Club Penguin for approximately $350 million. I wrote previously about Club Penguin and the “3-D Internet” here.

Last night I saw the Wii in action up close for the first time. I’m not into gaming but my eight year old daughter and her friend (who owned the game) played it for almost three hours while the adults escaped to drink red wine in the other room. Once again I was motivated to step back and think: multi-player gaming/social networking and TV-Internet convergence.

I’ve tried to argue that when the Internet truly comes to the living room or family room, whether through the Xbox, IPTV or AppleTV, the current Internet experience (especially search) will feel quite impoverished. There’s something really interesting starting to emerge that will combine the graphical richness of gaming (3-D) and the broader Internet, as well as social interaction and pump that through a big screen.

Kids, especially, are being conditioned to expect “immersive” experiences that are much visually richer than the largely “text-based Internet” of today. That’s why Club Penguin and all its kin matter to you and me; that’s why the Xbox and Wii matter and why all the desktop 3-D (and related) innovations — Google Earth/StreetView, Microsoft Virtual Earth/Photosynth, EveryScape and so on — matter. Because they all come together eventually in some very interesting way.

I would imagine that 10 years from now when we look back on this period of the Internet’s development it will be akin to looking at a classic car parade featuring cars from the ’40s and ’50s.


My Camera Rig Is Better Than Yours

July 30, 2007

CarsGizmodo, in something of a tongue-in-cheek post, compares the cars and cameras Google is using to capture its StreeView imagery with those being used by Microsoft for what has been known as StreetSide. StreetSide is a Live Local product that predated Google’s StreetView but has been limited to San Francisco and Seattle. What this post suggests, although I’ve yet to confirm this with anyone officially, is that Microsoft is expanding its StreetSide program beyond the two cities — perhaps in response to StreetView.

Opinions are mixed about the utility (vs. novelty) of street-level photography. I believe it’s quite valuable under certain circumstances and in a range of use cases. However, there are privacy issues (not necessarily legal, but psychological) that have been written about quite a bit. Regardless of these concerns there is competitive momentum building toward mapping products that offer a range of imagery and capabilities: aerial photography, 3D images and street-level photography.

The rest of this post is at SEL.

ImageAmerica Acquired by Google

July 23, 2007 Friday, the Google LatLong Blog announced the company had acquired ImageAmerica, “a company that builds high resolution cameras for the collection of aerial imagery.” Google plans to use the capabilities in Google Maps and Earth. ImageAmerica provided some of the high-resolution post-Hurricane Katrina images (no longer available) in Google Earth.

In May of last year, Microsoft acquired Vexcel. Among other things the company is the maker of an extremely high-resolution camera for orthogonal photography and 3-D mapping. Microsoft is using Vexcel’s technology in both areas. Vexcel also brought automated 3-D rendering to Microsoft, allowing the company to build photo-realistic models of urban areas very quickly.

At the time of the Vexcel cquisition and subsequent launch of Virtual Earth 3-D, Microsoft believed that it had trumped Google and taken the lead in online mapping. Clearly that was true in terms of 3-D rendering, which Google was relying on third-parties to develop manually. But more recently Google has apparently licensed automated 3-D rendering technology to complement its community based approach.

The rest of this post is at SEL.


The reason that Google and Microsoft are battling it out in mapping and investing millions of dollars in developing these applications is that they’re about more than just maps and directions. They’re turning into important developer platforms and, in one version of the future, “metaverses” that have social networking and cross-platform (TV) implications.

EveryScape and ‘The People’s World Project’

July 19, 2007

Everyscape, which will formally launch this fall, has announced “The People’s World Project” which seeks to involve the community in voting for the next cities that EveryScape builds out.

The company plans to launch with photorealistic, 3-D environments for 10 US metropolitan areas, five of which will be chosen by the community. Voting closes at the end of August. In addition the company is seeking to involve people in the project of building these 3-D cities by getting them to take and upload ordinary photography, which EveryScape knits together and converts into 3-D environments.

EveryScape contends it has an advantage over Microsoft Virtual Earth and Google Maps/Earth because, among other things, its proprietary technology can use ordinary photography. EveryScape also seeks to add public building interiors in addition to exterior imagery.

I’ve written about EveryScape and, by extension, “metaverses” several times in the past.

Fascinating: Sims Stories

July 9, 2007

SimsThe next generation Internet will feature some intriguing mix of 3D, gaming and community — and it likely extends into the living room onto TV via Xbox, AppleTV, Sling Catcher, IPTV or TiVO. I stumbled upon Sims Stories, from games company Electronic Arts and Yahoo!, which prompted me to write this brief post.

These new Sims Stories have been out since early this year but I find it fascinating and see innumerable possibilities. Click around and watch a couple of the videos and you’ll start to get the idea. Here’s a piece the NY Times ran last year about the popularity of The Sims games among young kids. And here’s the Introduction to SecondLife video.

Here are some previous posts on virtual worlds and metaverses. There’s something enormously powerful — much more powerful than the current text-based Internet — in these virtual worlds and their myriad hypothetical extensions.

3D: The Next-Gen Internet

June 15, 2007

SecondLifeI’ve written recently a great deal about Google Maps, Virtual Earth 3D and other products, including SecondLife and EveryScape.

Here’s a video I discovered earlier on Search Engine Journal introducing Second Life and discussing what’s going on “inside.” Watch the video and you’ll see some amazing stuff with amazing (commercial) implications. Whether Second Life survives as an entity isn’t the point. Some version of what you see in the video is the future of the Internet — or at least some meaningful aspect of it.

Kids will expect more “immersive” and dynamic environments than exist today and higher bandwidth speeds will allow for progressively richer graphical environments (online and on TV) to exist. And, as with SecondLife, these worlds will be fundamentally social and about interaction — and eventually transactions.

Everyscape: A New ‘3D’ Mapping Site

June 13, 2007

Brady Forrest at O’Reilly Radar writes about a new startup, Everyscape, which is seeking to take ordinary photographs and knit them into a “3D” image display for cities. According to Forrest, the company has been around since 2002 and received funding in 2004.Union Square

(Click to enlarge.)

Using a mixture of proprietary technology, professionals and community the site hopes to offer photorealistic views of major U.S. cities, as well as building interiors, by this fall. The site offers a demo of the technology touring San Francisco’s Union Square.

This appears to be like a provocative marriage of Microsoft’s Photosyth with Google’s StreetView, with a little Flickr thrown in for good measure. It has the practical, 360 degree pan and zoom features of StreetView and the 2D into 3D approach of Photosynth. The reliance on community (“Scape Artists“) and geocoded images is reminiscent of Yahoo’s Flickr.

The rest of this post is at SEL. What I didn’t write about extensively in my post there was how quickly these “3D mapping” applications are now rolling out. What may emerge as “Web 3.0” is literally 3D — much more graphically rich, “immersive” environments where I can do everything from booking a hotel or making a restaurant reservation to looking at and buying a car.

And as I’ve tried to argue before, these 3D environments will be much more interesting than a “search box” and “ten blue links” as a way to discover information and conduct transactions when the Internet comes to TV in earnest via IPTV, Xbox, AppleTV and so on.

Virtual Earth Expands 3-D to Include NYC

May 29, 2007

3-D MapWhen Microsoft debuted Live Search Maps/Virtual Earth in 3-D last November there were many “oohs” and “aahs” but there was also the question: “Where’s New York?” It was not among the original 3-D cities that the Virtual Earth team rolled out. Now that omission has been rectified with the launch this morning of New York and a range of other U.S. cities and Ottawa, Canada.

Here’s a spectacular video of the new 3-D rendering of New York. As I explain in my SEL post this morning:

While they’re very interesting and useful for some, they’re more of a novelty for most people — today.

But 3-D mapping and “immersive” environments like this are really about future applications that become pretty interesting to contemplate. Think of them as more practical versions of SecondLife, “metaverses” that will offer lots of content, e-commerce opportunities (i.e., Travel) and even social networking in the near future, as connection speeds improve. And these 3-D worlds will play well on TV, as the Internet increasingly makes its way into the living room.


Related: MapQuest launches new “ActionScript” API for third-party maps developers.

Maps Take Center Stage at Where 2.0

May 28, 2007

3-D MapThe conference Where 2.0 begins tomorrow in San Jose, California. It’s about mapping, mashups and location-based services and there should be a range of interesting announcements from companies large and small. To that end, Garrett Rogers speculates, based on domain name registrations, that Google will be announcing a “street view” mapping capability at the show. Here’s more background on a related startup (Vutool), which Google allegedly acquired to offer this functionality (or some version of it).

Microsoft has experimented with street-level photography and has had “Street Side” (in Seattle and San Francisco) for over a year. And of course, Amazon’s A9 used to have street-level photography in its innovative “block view” offering, which the company shut down last year.

I recently spoke informally with Barnaby Dorfman (at the recent Facebook Platform launch), who managed A9’s local search before he left the company, and we lamented the demise of block view. A9’s former CEO Udi Manber is now at Google (and has been since early 2006). He’s VP of Engineering and doesn’t have direct responsibility for anything in Maps or local. However, all the elements in place suggests that Google will ultimately offer street-level views on Maps. Most recently it has made images more prominent in Maps (for Universal Search).

Read the rest of this post is at SEL.

Google Maps ‘Text View’ Part of Universal Search

May 16, 2007

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.I sat down after the briefing for Universal Search to lunch at Google. At my table was John Hanke, the GM of Maps/Local. He confirmed that the “text view” I stumbled upon the other day was new and launched in preparation for the Universal Search announcement today. In the course of our conversation I also made several suggestions about product enhancements (for Maps and mobile) that made John smile, suggesting they were on the roadmap.

Among the general things we discussed were My Maps, mobile apps, Google Earth and the 3-D Warehouse and Google Earth on TV (eventually). Hanke cited progress with their community based 3-D build out. He also said that My Maps was really taking off and had captured people’s imaginations. He said that it had made Google Maps a “global product” and that Google was getting submissions from all over the world.

Beyond the fact that the tool is creative and fun, he said it was being used for generally self-interested purposes (people making maps for themselves and their friends) and that self-interest was aligned with Google’s interest in capturing user-generated content and recommendations.

There’s a much longer post to be written on that latter point . . . at some point.

New Google ‘Lat Long’ Blog

May 10, 2007

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

John Hanke, Director Google Earth & Maps, announces the new blog:

As web mapping (dare I say “the geoweb”?) matures, we’re finding that we have a lot more to communicate about new developments in Earth, Maps, Local, and our APIs. The tools are becoming more powerful, more accessible, and more interrelated — not only to each other, but also to the web at large and to things like search.

This should be an interesting blog to follow, perhaps a bit developer focused, but very interesting to non-technical people as we witness the increasing geo-tagging and localization of the Internet.

Here’s my post from last year about Google Earth as a “geobrowser.” The discussion in the post is consistent with some of the remarks about emerging 3-D environments and virtual worlds that Bill Gates made in his keynote yesterday.


They just posted with “before” and “after” imagery from the Kansas tornado disaster.

Bill Gates and the Demise of Traditional Media

May 9, 2007

I wanted to attend the Microsoft SAS event this week but had a conflict. Bill Gates’ keynote was sweeping and made lots of bandwidth-driven predictions about marketplace changes. Among them, that traditional media would be completely disrupted as users adopt digital platforms. Here’s the Seattle Times’ coverage.

I watched the Webcast. Here are some excerpts (pardon the sentence fragments):

  • On mobile: Directory assistance morphs into search, and voice is the “quickest way into that capability.” He touts the Tellme acquisition without mentioning the company name.
  • On Virtual Earth and “virtual worlds”: 3-D interfaces will be mainstream.
  • On social media: Social networks become integrated so that it “feels like a single experience.”
  • On traditional media ad models:
  • Newspapers: subscriptions have started an “inexorable decline.” Combination of TV and Internet are chief ways to get news, even local news. Print ad budgets will decline as ad dollars will follow users. But online is much more competitive and there’s no “sure winner, except the consumers themselves.”
  • “[Newspaper and magazine] reading is going to go completely online.” Ads are “completely targeted” and can be in “new and richer formats.” The only drawbacks of this are things “associated with the device.” He predicts this will happen within five years.
  • Discusses how online video can target niche audiences, which is now “complimentary” to traditional media. “Every household in America watching a new video feed is now practical.” Video will be delivered over the Internet/IP networks. He also discusses the interactive capability of IPTV and potential user interaction with ads during programming. He discusses user-generated content.
  • Gates speaks about Xbox Live as a set-top box, VOD, community and simultaneous online/TV viewing activity with two-video.
  • “Broadcast TV will not be competitive [with the Internet].” Ads will be personally targeted to the viewer. TV “will completely go online.”

On online marketing/advertising: He alludes very obliquely to an online ad exchange to bring buyers and sellers together to better monetize content and target advertisers and suggests MSFT will be a big player or the biggest player. (This obviously suggests acquisitions.)

Gives Zillow a plug (Zillow uses Virtual Earth).

Says that voice will be a customized interface for lots of devices (references Tellme technology). Discusses mixed voice/screen interfaces as optimal: “voice-screen interaction” far more “robust” than only voice.

And now the yellow pages zingers:

Yellow pages are going to be used “less and less.” Gives plumber example: “Presentation you’ll get will be far better than what you’ll get in the [print] yellow pages.”

Yellow pages usage “among people under 50 will drop to near zero in the next five years.”

My thoughts: much of what Gates says is probably accurate; however, the recent PEW research argues that Americans are far more ambivalent about technology and slower to adopt that Gates’ ambitious vision.

His sweeping predictions about the complete demise of traditional media or their total transition to digital formats “within the next five years” is way too aggressive, although in a generation he may be largely correct.

There are also fundamental questions about Microsoft’s ability to be at the center of all the changes and developments that Gates asserts. The company may need some aggressive acquisitions to do so; and while Microsoft will certainly be somewhere in the mix, its not clear precisely where that will be.


Related: Traditional media, in the form of film/TV producers and distributors say “not so fast.”

‘Zwintopia’ Launched by IAC

April 30, 2007

TechCrunch posts on “Zwinktopia,” a new virtual world from IAC coming out of its avatar site Zwinky. Here’s my previous post on why these virtual worlds, directed at kids, will likely matter later on for everyone doing business online.

Here’s more on the virtual world landscape (so to speak) from GigaOM.

Kids, Virtual Words and the 3-D Internet

April 23, 2007

Last week I spoke to a reporter about 3-D mapping and whether it was a novelty or something that would become mainstream. In the short term it remains a novelty partly because of slow connection speeds and other technical issues. Virtual Earth 3-D and Google Earth are great but each in its own way is too cumbersome for day-to-day use. (But see this post re use of Google Earth as a travel site.)

Longer term, 3-D mapping and related 3-D or virtual worlds are going to be a definite feature of a next-generation Internet — or they will define the next generation Internet. So where’s the evidence? In a word: children.

There’s a post at GigaOM about dramatic growth at Gaia Online as well as other such youth/tween destinations such as Habbo Hotel and CyWorld (the US version is different than the Korean). There’s also the new virtual community And here’s another post from a VC (Lightspeed) that mentions some others, such as ClubPenguin.

SecondLife, which has garnered all the attention to date, may one day be seen as a forward looking but ultimately unsuccessful pioneer. Why? Because of timing. Most adults (including me) couldn’t be bothered to spend time in SecondLife. And there are indications that traditional marketers aren’t getting much value from being there, despite the literal land grab going on.

But fast forward about 7 years (give or take) and 3-D and virtual worlds are much more common and can be found on Internet-connected TVs too. Kids have been conditioned to prefer these environments — they’re social networks — to the flat, 2-D Internet and they’re exploding for all sorts of uses: entertainment, shopping, communication and so on.

If you think about it you can see that there’s a kind of inevitability about this as 3-D, gaming and social networking come together for casual users. But timing is the “X variable” here.

Quick Takes on Too Many Items

March 28, 2007

In the interest of getting paid work done 🙂 I have to provide some abbreviated analysis of a number of things I’d like to write more about:

  • Micro-local real estate site, StreetAdvisor launches.
  • Street-level 3-D mapping from Vutool?
  • UK online advertising spending has overtaken advertising in national newspapers per the IAB. Plus more bad news for US print newspaper revenues (though online up).
  • Tribune Co. is close to a sale and will reportedly go private. That could be good for the company, but quality could also suffer under an owner that may have no interest in newspapers per se.
  • YouTube’s mobile video site will launch in June when Verizon exclusivity expires. While mobile video is quite a speculative thing at the moment, despite all the investment and announcements, YouTube is a potential market maker especially with its “short form” content.
  • This site, “How to Get Your Business Listed Major Local Search Engines . . .” is valuable but a mess. Somebody needs to simplify, clean up and offer this directly to the SMB market.
  • Joost on AppleTV: very interesting. Here are all the competing devices that will put the Internet on your TV. Again, what will search look like on a TV screen? (Related post here.)
  • Korean “citizen journalism” site OhmyNews (much touted as a model) is unprofitable and in trouble. All those who uncritically celebrate this as the successor to professional journalism should take notice.
  • MarketWatch launches wisdom of crowds stock prediction and community tools.
  • The publisher of Child magazine has decided to go Internet only. And Time magazine, emphasizing video and its new site, kills Life (again). (Video is good but there’s a kind of knee-jerk, “me-too” over-reaction going on to current hype and trends.)

3-D ‘Metaverses’ Will Bloom on TV

March 12, 2007

Virtual SFI’ve been meaning to do a post for a long time on Google Earth’s community 3-D strategy vs. Microsoft’s “top-down” approach to rolling out 3-D environments — and this isn’t it. But here’s a short post on what will likely happen with TV and 3-D.

Despite Google Earth’s 100+ million downloads, it’s not yet a “mainstream” product. Microsoft’s Virtual Earth 3-D, a browser plug-in, though compelling in many respects, is still too slow, which prevents it too from gaining mainstream adoption and usage for now.

But step back and add to this mix Second Life (and the marketing frenzy associated with it) and you have another piece of this puzzle. And then there’s the graphically rich, bigger-than-Hollywood computer gaming industry. (Hollywood and gaming are coming closer together these days.) Along those lines, Sony announced PlayStation “Home” (LittleBigPlanet) a couple weeks ago, which is a marriage of Second Life, The SIMS, social networks and video gaming proper.

I’ve speculated about how the Internet (and search) will or won’t translate to a TV monitor. But gaming, as mentioned, is already huge. Thus you have a massive (no pun intended) installed base.

I think on TV environments like Google Earth and Virtual Earth will have real traction and prove to be a way to translate the Internet into the living room. They and the virtual worlds will have more bandwidth and perform better for users than they could online. And I believe — say within five to seven years — we’ll see a convergence of commerce/advertising, video, community and local/travel in these environments. The big screen and a big pipe permit a lot of interesting configurations.

Search as a utility will be a piece of this but, as with mobile search as it’s presently constituted, would be somewhat awkward on a TV monitor. Instead, alternative interfaces such as voice and browse environments (especially with gaming consoles) may be the way people navigate a 3-D/TV version of the Internet. However, search or directional media as a metaphor for capture of user intent will very much be a part of these emerging metaverses.


Related: Virtual worlds and avatars and How Second Life Impacts Our First Life. And here’s Nintendo’s version.

Here are older posts of mine on Google Earth: The Emerging Geobrowser and on Microsoft’s experimental Photosynth.