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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Making sense of our streams, in real time

How do we make sense of the streams of information on social networks? It’s easy to get overwhelmed and difficult to tell a good story about what happens on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc. I’m a strong believer in virtual worlds as islands in those streams, where we can gather, and make time for thoughtful discussions. But even then we could make good use of tools to tell stories about what happens ‘out there’.

Josh Stearns on Groundswell has a great post about The New Curators: Weaving Stories from the Social Web.

Josh discusses Slices of Boulder, which seeks to aggregate and curate local information streams. The project is a collaboration between the Digital Media Test Kitchen at the University of Boulder and Eqentia.

Another tool, or rather a platform, is Swift River, built by the folks behind Ushahidi. It was designed with crisis situations in mind. The developers describe it as a “platform that helps people make sense of a lot of information in a short amount of time.” On their blog they try to clarify the concept as being an open source Yahoo Pipes for any SMS, Twitter, Email, and JSON/ATOM/XML/RSS feed, soon video and audio as well.

Storify finally is as Josh explains “based on two panes: 1) Navigating various content feeds (i.e. a Twitter search, a Facebook stream, as well as content from YouTube, Flickr and more) and 2) A blank stream where you can drag and drop elements from those streams to build your story.” It is simple, but compelling.

Storify demo from Burt Herman on Vimeo.

To be honest, Storify is the only tool mentioned here I actually experimented with (I’ll try the others out as well). Have a look at my post about Second Life in a browser and two stories on my financial blog (the blogposts are in Dutch, the tweets in English): one post about the US GDP report of last Friday and another one about Nouriel Roubini being pessimistic about the growth prospects (a social media discussion in which he does not hesitate to call a participant “an idiot”).

Storify (find an invite code at TechCrunch) actually helps you to discover stories.  It makes it easy to combine social media streams, and by doing that you stumble upon unexpected stuff (such as the angry outbursts of Roubini) and you can make that discovery process visible.

On Zombie Journalism Mandy Jenkins explains ten ways journalists (and bloggers of course) can use Storify: gathering reactions on breaking news, combining past content with newer information and social streams, showing your own quests on Twitter, Facebook etc, or organizing your own live tweets from a conference.

Robin Good is following up the fast expanding universe of real time curation tools on his blog. He also prepared a mindmap about all this:

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The sobering aspects of the cyber world – and our future

Yesterday the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), better known as MI6, held a public speech – for the first time ever. He was dealing with ethical issues such as torture and secrecy.

I’d like to focus on some other aspects of the speech (full version here) by Sir John Sawers, which have to do with a networked world and future threats. I think these issues, even though depressing, are important if one wants to think about scenarios for the future.

Sawers briefly explained the structure of the security services. The Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, operates abroad, dealing with threats overseas and gathering intelligence mainly from human sources. The security service, MI5, works in the UK, protecting the homeland from terrorist attack and other threats. GCHQ produces intelligence from communications, and takes the lead in the cyber world.

These three specialised services form the UK intelligence community, and operate in a networked world. Technology plays an ever growing part in their work, for SIS as well as GCHQ, and the boundary line between home and abroad is increasingly blurred. So, they’ll have to collaborate more and more – also in order to make savings.

The security services are dealing with more than the classical terrorist attacks:

But our country, our democratic system, will not be brought down by a typical terrorist attack.

The dangers of proliferation of nuclear weapons – and chemical and biological weapons – are more far-reaching. It can alter the whole balance of power in a region.

The impact of cyber attacks can be devastating as well:

Attacks on government information and commercial secrets of our companies are happening all the time. Electricity grids, our banking system, anything controlled by computers, could possibly be vulnerable. For some, cyber is becoming an instrument of policy as much as diplomacy or military force.

A few weeks ago, GCHQ director Iain Lobban said UK’s critical infrastructure – such as power grids and emergency services – faces a “real and credible” threat of cyber attack. The threat posed by terrorists, organised criminals and hostile foreign governments was “real and credible” and he demanded a swifter response to match the speed with which “cyber events” happened, so the BBC reported. Another interesting quote from the BBC coverage:

“Cyberspace is contested every day, every hour, every minute, every second. I can vouch for that from the displays in our own operations centre of minute-by-minute cyber attempts to penetrate systems around the world.”

While 80% of the threat to government systems could be dealt with through good information assurance practice – such as keeping security “patches” up to date – the remaining 20% was more complex and could not simply be solved by building “higher and higher” security walls.

It’s a sobering thought that the same characteristics we usually like so much in cyberspace, such as the blurring of national boundaries and the dazzling speed of innovation and change, are also lethal menaces.

Roland Legrand

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