Affordable AR glasses plus virtual worlds on any device gives us…

Let’s do something wild and combine two fascinating developments. The first one is about augmented reality. As I said in a previous post, I’m not totally convinced that looking through a smartphone camera is such a compelling experience. What about glasses? The conventional wisdom says that it won’t work: people won’t put some ugly device on their face and walk around like total nerds (okay, some would be happy to do it, because they are nerds geeks, but I’m talking about mainstream folks here).

But can we be that sure? After all, 3D movies are very popular now, and professional augmented reality glasses can do amazing stuff – but they are very expensive. Well, it seems that prices are coming down: Aaron Saenz on the Singularity Hub talks about $2000 dollar (made by Vuzix). Pretty expensive, but clearly the price is getting lower. Here is the video:

Maybe the idea of staring at 3D-dragons is not exactly your idea of great entertainment, but there is also stuff about publishing and education in the video and the story. This being said, a sure sign that this kind of stuff goes beyond the very early adopters will be when the first ‘adult content’ publishers start using it.

Now the second development: the current experiments of running Second Life in a browser. I could not yet check it for myself, but the first reactions on Twitter seem to be positive. Really Engaging Accounting has a first-hand story about the experiments and this video:

Now imagine to combine both developments. The glasses could ultimately replace the traditional smartphone hardware, and virtual worlds such as Second Life or Blue Mars (more a platform for virtual worlds) will run in the cloud and you will be able to use them on lower end laptops, tablets, and I guess smartphones – and so, in a not too distant future, they could also run in those fancy glasses. So start dreaming about seamless integration of virtual, augmented and physical realities (or at least, read some science fiction about it!), and what it will make possible.

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Augmented Reality platform Layar gets second round of funding

The Dutch augmented reality platform Layar got a second round of funding, about $14 million, led by Intel Capital. In total (both rounds) Layar got $17,4 million. Layar says the next phase in the life of the company will be all about content:

The next phase is all about content. In the last year we have built a global platform for Augmented Reality. The coming period is about identifying the content formats that can attract and build an audience. We will not wait passively but will be actively involved in supporting our publishers in this process.

The company remains based in Amsterdam but is also opening a US office in San Francisco. So, is this yet another example that augmented reality becomes big business? Not so fast. Robin Wauters on TechCrunch says

The question remains: is augmented reality a fad or poised to go mainstream?

The jury is still out on that, but Intel Capital and Layar’s initial backers are clearly betting on the latter to happen in the near future, and on the Dutch startup to help make it a reality.

Well, let’s hope it works out. I have Layar on my iPhone, and even though I played with it, it remains one of the apps I hardly use these days. It seems that my old-fashioned Google maps (combined with location based services such as Foursquare) cover my needs most of the time. I could imagine interesting applications such as putting layers of historical images on the physical reality of all major cities. Maybe there are not enough content creators to provide such cool layers (instead of yet another listing of restaurants), and so users give up on it, making that potential content creators are frustrated because of the limited user base.

Kevin C. Tofel on GigaOm gives an example of historical information on Layar. Now just imagine ways to have this kind of view in a more compelling way than through your smartphone camera and also imagine to have these layers in an ubiquitous, interactive and real time way – then I think something like mainstream traction becomes very probable.

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Discovering a virtual mine in the Appalachian mountains

Talking about virtual environments and machinima (see previous post), here is a very nice example: today in Second Life the Virtual Mine is being launched:

The Virtual Mine is a complete 3D virtual mountaintop removal mine created by Deep Down in the popular world Second Life.  The virtual mine, developed at BAVC’s Producers Institute for New Media Technologies with funding from ITVS and MacArthur Foundation, is an educational 3D environment, game, and educational curriculum for teachers, students, and anyone who’d like to learn more about mountain top removal, coal fired power production, alternative energies, and the amazing music and culture in the Appalachian mountains.  Read more about our inspiration and development at the Producers Institute, and our meeting with Second Life Education at the Institute.

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Shooting video in virtual worlds and games with a virtual handheld camera

Machinima is a crucial aspect of the use of virtual environments for journalism. It basically involves shooting video inside virtual environments and games, eventually mixing this with video from the physical world. Examples can be found for instance on the YouTube channel of Draxtor Despres.

The blog Phasing Grace now has great news for machinima makers: the development of a virtual camera which can be used in a very intuitive way as a handheld camera in a virtual world or a game. The new development in virtual cameras at the University of Abertay Dundee is developing the pioneering work of James Cameron’s blockbuster Avatar using a Nintendo Wii-like motion controller – all for less than £100:


Read Phasing Grace for more details!

More news about the use of virtual & augmented reality in newsrooms can be found in this post by Terri Thornton on PBS MediaShift, where she explains how augmented reality invades newsrooms, kids’ shows and ads.

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Blue Mars gets ready for the cloud

Avatar Reality, the company behind the virtual worlds platform Blue Mars, released demos showing how virtual worlds created on the platform can be rendered in the cloud and used in a browser and on hardware such as office laptops, Macs, smartphones and tablets – basically on everything which can handle video and which gets on a broadband connection. Avatar Reality uses OTOY’s streaming technology.

More videos on the Blue Mars blog. We mentioned Otoy in a previous post about the possibilities of “gaming in the cloud” for immersive journalism. Blue Mars will be rolling out the new service during the first quarter of 2011.

As Jason Kincaid on TechCrunch says, Blue Mars still needs to get companies and websites to build out these 3D worlds, and people to use them. It’s obvious that by making access to a graphically very rich 3D environment as easy as surfing on the web, more people will be pulled into this experience.

It’s also important to realize that Blue Mars is not one particular virtual world. It’s a platform where people build virtual worlds, and they can build them for gaming purposes, for business collaboration or for conferences and education… They will have to decide to use (and to pay for) the cloud based service or not, whether to charge for it etc.

Second Life (which also tries to get into a browser) struggles with the fact that for now new users need to have the right hardware and firewall configuration, but also with the experience those new users have of arriving in a new city without knowing where to go. On Blue Mars one could create a world with a very specific purpose, and integrate that world into a familiar web environment – solving not only technical issues but also answering the question “what am I going to do here.”

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Metanomics about the new laws of virtual worlds

On Metanomics:

Virtual worlds often seem like they have their own governments….and their own laws. Whether expressed through a EULA or a Terms of Service Agreement, virtual worlds are often governed by individual codes of conduct and enforcement that are derived less from “real-world” laws and more by the platform owner’s lawyers. But the law doesn’t end at the border of a virtual world, and the continually evolving ways in which governments, regulators and judges interpret the law as it applies to virtual worlds is an increasingly important subject as online communities grow.

Robert Bloomfield welcomes a very special guest, Greg Lastowka, Professor of Law at Rutgers University on the eve of the publication of his new book: Virtual Justice, The New Laws of Online Worlds.

Published by Yale University Press, Professor Lastowka’s book explores crime, governance and a history of law in virtual worlds.

Join us for this in-depth discussion of trends, insights and the future of law, crime and governance in virtual environments on Monday November 8th at 12 p.m. Pacific.

You can join in through the main stage in Second Life, or watch a live video stream of the event on this page. More information about the event and the topic (and about many related issues) can be found on the Metanomics site.

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Qwiki wants wikis to act human

homepage qwiki

Just a quick shout here about Qwiki, which does something extra with wikis: “working to deliver information in a format that’s quintessentially human – via storytelling instead of search.” The site explains:

We’ve all seen science fiction films (or read novels) where computers are able to collect data on behalf of humans, and present the most important details. This is our goal at Qwiki – to advance information technology to the point it acts human.

It’s pretty cool: Qwiki tells you in voice about your selected topics, showing pictures and videos, automatically generated. They’re working on a platform allowing any web publisher to turn their content into Qwikis.

Just do some searches and be surprised about the slick results, and imagine how things could evolve in a not too distant future. How cool it would be to have this service on a wearable device, enabling you to command it using simple voice, and getting the voice response and pictures wherever you are.

The service is in private alpha but you can join and suggest improvements.

Hat tip to my colleague Raphael Cockx who found out about this new service.

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FT Alphaville expands chat sessions

This is nice, and another example of how mainstream media embrace social media: the Financial Times runs a number of blogs, and one of their major blogs is FT Alphaville (about all things markets). It’s a very classical blog, but they also have a daily chat session and a kind of virtual club where members gather and have discussions about finance and economics. That club is called the Long Room and was inspired by a famous restaurant in the City of London that was a favorite haunt of financial pundits and market movers during the 1980s. I posted about it on PBS MediaShift.

Today FT Alphaville launched an extension of the daily chat session: Macro Live. This will be “a freewheeling real-time conversation — but will instead focus on key US economic indicators and other significant news releases that are expected to affect both the markets and the broader economy.”

Just have a look at the transcript of the Macro Live about the decision by the Federal Reserve to pump an extra $600 billion into the American economy. The great advantage of chat is that it actually can only be a conversation. It’s a serious but informal and sometimes real funny exchange of information, ideas and questions. It’s a great opportunity to bring members of the newspaper community together. Of course, and rather important for financial news, it’s extremely fast.

Of course it would be nice to do this in a 3D virtual environment, but 1) text chat works very well and 2) for now these virtual environments present awkward trade-offs between graphical sophistication and technological and organizational challenges. I mean that in order to have a real 3D virtual environment, one needs decent hardware, solutions for firewalls and enough capacity to accommodate larger groups. Or one has to settle for a much less sophisticated environment.

I really hope we’ll soon see some compelling 3D environments accessible in a browser, in order to enhance those great chat experiences!

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Mainstream media embrace social media

While there are still journalists out there who ‘don’t get’ social media or try to ignore them as much as possible, it seems that mainstream media are more and more embracing blogs, video sharing, social networks and microblogging. The coverage of the US elections demonstrates this: have a look at ReadWriteWeb and Nieman Journalism Lab and find out about CBS working with YouTube or The Washington Post buying a ‘promoted trend’ on Twitter. Storify, even though it’s such a new tool, is being used by a whole bunch of mainstream media to curate social media feeds on election day.

This involvement of mainstream media also puts certain things into perspective, like the often repeated notion that ‘(long form) blogs are sooo 2005′. I guess it’s true people switch to other platforms and styles such as Twitter and Plurk, Tumblr and Posterous, but the ‘classical’ blogs are still very relevant. In financial journalism it seems that the growing importance of Twitter is stimulating rather than holding back a rich ecosystem of blogs.

Even though I’m totally convinced of the importance of blogs, I have to admit I was surprised, finding this advertisement for the Europe blog of The Wall Street Journal, not far from Antwerp, Belgium:

Advertisement for the Europe blog of the WSJ

This particular billboard does not look very glamorous, but anyway: here we have it, a mainstream media company, promoting blogs by very classical means and this even in small towns and villages.

It all takes time, maybe too much time. Does this recognition of social media mean that mainstream media are fundamentally changing into more social (transparent, collaborative) organizations? I guess it depends, fundamental change is not an inevitable consequence of  launching blogs – but more about that in a later post.

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When game theorists become scary

Games, especially video games and online games, are incredibly fascinating. They can be beautiful, intriguing, social, but in order to become a success, they need to be engaging.

There is a kind of gold rush to games by marketing specialists, human resources experts, experimental economists, psychologists, neurologists, educators, and they all want to find what makes individual and groups tick. Games are being played by hundreds of millions, and staggering amounts of data are being collected about human behavior.

Experts point out how interesting and useful it would be to apply core gaming principles to make people more engaged. They give noble examples such as environmental awareness campaigns. But of course, it’s also a matter of making people addicted to your product or service.

Gaming experts can be so convincing they become scary. Are they really unlocking ways which almost inevitably make people engage? Is this a good thing, or is it a sophisticated way of manipulating people so that they spend time and effort for projects the game masters deem important?

In a TED video released today, game theorist Tom Chatfield explains how games engage the brain. He is the author of the new book Fun, Inc about the gaming industry and how it is altering our society.

Hat tip to Chris Clark on NspireD² for posting about this video.

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