Friday, 30 November 2007

Exploring Kinset's 3D Immersive Shopping

After yesterday's post, I finally installed the Kinset 3D immersive shopping browser on my PC at home - it is blocked by my employer's corporate firewall - to see what the fuss is about.

For a Second Lifer, the orientation is simplicity itself. In essence, there isn't any - aside from F1 help that tells you how to move about the virtual shopping world. You don't have an avatar, with all the complexity that brings, and the only item you probably need to concern yourself with is your shopping basket.

On starting the browser you find yourself in a central plaza, flanked on 3 sides by shops (including Brookstone). Movement is much the same as in Second Life, using arrow keys or WASD keys on your keyboard, optionally coupled with mouse movements. You can zoom your view with the Z key, or the mouse scroll-wheel. The overall feel is much like SL's "mouselook mode." A nice touch is using the mouse pointer to click on ground further away if you want to move more quickly from place to place.

Since the aim here is to shop 'til you drop, the viewer mode is cunningly setup to zoom into products if they stay under the mouse pointer for more than a couple of moments. Along with the zoomed-in view, you are also presented with a pop-up panel that provides a description and that all-important price. I didn't experiment with actually loading up a shopping cart, so I can't tell you how well this works.

Here's a few screen snapshots to peruse. First up, we have the arrival plaza, followed by a view of the whole site from an adjoining hill:

Here's couple of the stores, Brookstone and ElectroTown.

A couple of product displays, including a view of the description window. OK... the magazine amused me, and I am a huge fan of My Neighbour Totoro.

The Kinset website tells me that "shoppers can chat with store clerks, and shop with friends." However, I am struggling to see how this can be done, since there appears to be no chat facilities and, since I didn't have an avatar I assume I had no visible presence in this world. Certainly I saw no-one else there, and if this is how the system works then it would not be possible to have a shared immersive shopping experience (oo-err!) with friends, since you would not be able to see them or speak to them. Perhaps I missed a vital clue somewhere, or this facility is yet to come.

I suppose I can see that people unused to virtual worlds may find this site a bit strange, but for Second Lifers it is easy to use. It is certainly another fascinating insight into the possible future of the internet, though it will need more features and take some time to overcome common misperceptions(?).

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Brookstone Opens 3-D E-Commerce Site

Just to break away from my normal coverage of Second Life, I thought you might be interested to hear about Brookstone, a gadget retailer in the US, who have just unveiled a 3D e-commerce website. The site has been built by Kinset, whose own website describes them as "a leader in the development of 3D immersive online stores. " The stores carry all the major characteristics sought in a virtual world: "Shoppers can chat with store clerks, and shop with friends. It is designed to appeal to shoppers who enjoy shopping, and prefer shopping in stores to shopping on web pages."

To access the 3D immersive online store you will need to download a client component from the Kinset website. Unfortunately, probably due to firewall constraints at work, I have not been able to use the client, as it is unable to access the "asset server." So, for the time being at least, I am not able to comment on the user experience. Instead I will have to rely on the observations in StorefrontBacktalk, an excellent blog about technology in retail. Evan Schuman, the blog's author invited a number of friends and associates to have a go, then pulled together their observations. Apologies for the large slab lifted verbatim, but I think it makes an interesting read - and will no doubt be very familiar to Second Life residents!

In summary, this is a very impressive first effort. That said, the interface needs considerable work. Most of the help screens are not especially intuitive, leaving people with questions such as 'how do I move forward?' Turns out you can use the arrow keys or certain keyboard letters, but both will be blocked apparently if your mouse gets grouchy.
The display does show images of a very long list of items. But the images are small enough that they don't mean anything until the customer is right on top of them and zooms in. The intended effortless walking through the aisles where an attractive product catches your eye isn't working here.
Those were the core complaints, namely that it was difficult to use and, even when it worked, it didn't seem to deliver any advantage compared with the retailer's traditional Web site. Some complained that the site simply didn't work, with mouseclicks ignored. I experienced several of those myself.
The navigation seemed to be the biggest problem. Said one colleague: "Looking at the floor (so I could move around the store) gave me a virtual pain in my neck."
I found that my character would apparently accelerate out of control periodically, giving me no option but to deliberately crash him into the wall to get him to stop. This was simultaneously frustrating and enjoyable, in a Gomez Addams model train set kind of way.
One especially astute observer went through the site and she had the ultimate big picture objection: "My initial take was: what is the point? It's faster to do a text search or browse a category than to browse through this store. You can't see the items until you are on top of them anyway, so there's no advantage visually. It's hard and frustrating to navigate. The rise of the web has contributed to my short attention span. I didn't have the patience to play with this for more than a few minutes."
What Brookstone is attempting is an order of magnitude beyond what any other large retailer has tackled. They should be commended for trying and for reminding the industry what the future of E-Commerce might look like.
Indeed, I won't even suggest that Brookstone and Kinset got it wrong. This is extremely dicey stuff they're struggling with and there are no models out there. The problem with being a trendsetter, a true pioneer, is that it's easy to criticize even though they are lightyears beyond what anyone else has done.
Remember how clunky the initial Web sites were? I remember painfully trying to navigate SEC Edgar records—back around 1993—on this new thing called the Web, working with a text browser. Graphical browsers were still many months away.

Interesting eh? I don't know what underlying technology is being used here, but it will be interesting to see how this evolves over the coming months. Kinset have included a number of machinima movies on their website to give you a feel - here's just one of them:

So maybe Retail3.D is not so far away.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Show Me Shiomi

Another short post for you tonight, and another one strictly for Japanese Sim Collectors. This is the island of Shiomi, owned by Japanese v-learning company, SF3. I don't know whether "shiomi" is a genuine Japanese word or is, instead, a play on words, as in the title of this piece. That would certainly be appropriate for a v-learning centre. A bit of Googling does show "Shiomi" as a surname, and also there's a couple of stations by that name - one in Hokkaido, the other Tokyo - while Shiomi Dake is the name of a mountain in Honshu. Perhaps some kind soul from SF3 will tell me what it means!

The sim itself is split into 3 small islands, the largest of which is dominated by a large, shiny and rather well made learning demonstration centre. Despite its size it only has a ground and first floor. Each floor is divided so as to provide a large assembly hall, complete with streaming video (just a Nike ad at the moment), and 3 or more smaller rooms or seating areas. It is furnished largely with seating and tables from well-known Second Life designers, Scope Cleaver and Maximillian Milos. Of the remaining islands, one is largely bare, save for a few palm trees, while the second offers a more relaxed meeting area, with background music and open vistas. For the more adventurous there is a skydiving ride too. And that's about it.

Here are my snaps:

The layout does appear to be designed to allow groups of varying sizes to use the various meeting areas simultaneously without overlapping chat. It is nicely made, if unexciting. However, it does look like it would be capable of addressing its objective of providing a virtual learning environment. I could not determine, though, whether any v-learning sessions have already taken place, nor whether any are planned.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Al Joins Fuji Staff

A short one tonight, since I'm a bit pressed for time. In the same general area as last night's Toshiba island I came across Fuji Staff. At first I assumed it was an island intended for the staff of photographic company, Fuji. While exploring the sim I came across a solitary web link, which told me rather less than I had hoped. However, Google came to my aid, and informed me that Fuji Staff is, in fact, a recruitment agency (d'oh!) - and one of many that have entered Second Life this year.

The sim itself is fairly basic, being split into 3 small islands. The first is aimed at social networking, with a bar, a dancefloor and a hot tub/foot spa thing. A large modern office building occupies the second island, with 2 floors of relatively formal seating. The third island has a cafe and a lot of characters based on the letter "F" - and which seem to relate to this webpage, referring to FujiCa! Point - whatever that may be.

I took a few snaps - more to show I'd been there, than anything else:

The build is OK, but nothing spectacular. Most of the textures feel somewhat flat and dull, though the foot-spa was better, with more detailing present. In terms of the overall layout, I thought it had been thought through - with a good social area. The general absence of weblinks or events was more worrying - but maybe this will come in time. Would I recommend a trip there? Well.... only if you are a Japanese companies "completist" like me! Mark you, I did notice that I seemed to have build rights (which can't be right!) so if you are seeking a quiet sandbox, this could be the place for you. But be quick - I doubt such rights will exist for long.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Toshiba Image Festival

Scant pickings tonight, as I surveyed the broad Western oceans in search of something bloggable. At least, that was until I spotted Toshiba. Now it may not always be the case that an island belongs to the company whose name it bears, but this one does. The sim belongs to the Toshiba Corporation, the giant Japanese electronics firm,and appears to be associated with a marketing initiative called A New Digital Odyssey. I take it the prime reason for this is to promote Toshiba's range of HD products, including DVD recorders and TVs, including the Regza, featured in this site.

As part of the initiative the company has commissioned a set of CGI animated movies, depicting an enormous, sky-borne sailing ship, that goes by the name of (ta-daaah!) A New Digital Odyssey. At the beginning of October the company extended their campaign by opening an island in Second Life, though aside from this post I have not come across any decent references to it. The centrepiece of the build is, not surprisingly, a 190-metre recreation of A New Digital Odyssey. As in the CGI movies it is accompanied by flying pink elephants, and overall looks quite stunning. At ground level there are several buildings - some in the form of delicate towers and spires, others are modern, faintly militaristic, metal shells. There's also some wildlife down there - cute giant frog-like critters.

You can pick a free jet skateboard thingy and zoot across from the arrival point to the ship. This is actively encouraged. given that large pinky arrows point you in that direction. Once on the ship you can avail yourself of a rubber rescue raft, should you so choose, before proceeding below deck, where you will find the Image Festival. As part of the Regza promotion, you can view CGI movies from a number of different film makers. There are still some "coming soon..." but there are enough screens to keep you interested. Here's my photos:

The sailing boat:

The view from terra firma:

Frogs, pink elephants and a movie:

Maybe I blinked and missed it, but I found no information on the island at all; no URLs, no notecards, nada. Not exactly a great way to promote your products! I was also expecting to find out more about the festival - but it seems this boils down to the selection of (admittedly interesting) movies already onboard the ship. It seems to me that Toshiba have rather mucked this up. I love the ship (at least from a distance) and the various critters and buildings - they all show an almost classical Japanese anime combination of fantasy and whimsy that can make you go "Wow!" and smile at the same time.

But as a company promotional build it does not really make the grade, for the simple reason that it tells you next-to-nothing about the products being promoted! Also, there seems to be something of a disconnect between the various marketing channels, the web and SL, which seem to be blissfully unaware of each other - and this is compounded by evidently poor communication about the sim to the outside world. All these things could be addressed, but it is a shame to see an interesting and amusing build going to waste.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Al Jets Graphically into Kowloon

I've been on something of a marathon photoshoot this weekend, culminating in the simply stupendous Kowloon sim. Once again, my thanks to my friend Lem for telling me about it.

I want to keep this brief, but a tiny bit of background is in order. The sim is owned and built by Jet Graphics, a Japanese company with (evidently) great expertise in textures and 3D modelling. Although called Kowloon, the sim portrays the grimy, slightly seedy backstreets to be found in many Far Eastern cities. From my own limited travels, I recognised the ambience of both Kowloon and parts of Tokyo.

The sim is a masterpiece in many, many ways: the dense texturing; the ambience; the intricacy of its winding passageways and the amazing array of fabulously bizarre (but inexpensive) goods on sale. You could spend a lot of time here, and still find yourself coming back to explore further. If you tire of exploration, there is a sandbox, and they also host music events - or you could ride one of the slightly grubby (mechanical?) pandas! Here's my photoset - I know they're dark (it really should be seen in midnight mode - the default for the sim), but you can always click on 'em to see a bigger version of the image:

God knows what it must look like in Windlight! Oh... and a couple of tips: remember to click on doors, many of them will open and, watch out if you head into the theatre, you might not get out again so easily!

Al at Alcatel Lucent

Not far from the Splenda island I featured in the last post, you will find Alcatel-Lucent. Given that both companies are clients of MillionsofUs, this is hardly surprising; MOU seem to want to keep their clients close in Second Life, and their own islands are within a virtual stone's throw.

As usual, before I cover the island,I should give you a potted description of the company. Alcatel-Lucent "provides hardware, software, and services to telecommunications service providers and enterprises" worldwide. Though originating in France, and still headquartered in Paris, the company is truly multinational, employing around 80000 people in 132 different countries and raking in over 18billion Euro a year. While I was there a visitor from US rivals, Cisco, popped in for a look.

As is often the case with MOU islands, I seem to spend ages trying to get into them, give up for a while and then come back to find they've been open for weeks, or even months. Alcatel-Lucent island fits this model perfectly. I finally went back there last night, only to find it has been open to the public for well over a month. In fact, I've nearly missed the opportunity to take part in their competion - but more of this anon.

The island itself is divided into a number of pods, linked by walkways to a central tower, in which you will find an auditorium. The intention is to highlight the role of the company in various circumstances: home; office; partnerships. There's a lot of nice furniture and lighting, and a variety of displays, telling you about how important you are to the company and blah. A nice touch is the presence of a small public sandbox. Freebies come in the form of a T-shirt (meh) and a folder containing I don't-know-what, since I didn't pick it up.

While I can't claim to be bowled over by the island, it is well built - as you would expect. I don't know whether there is a schedule of events for the auditorium, so perhaps the "social stickiness" of the island relies on the presence of a sandbox, and the aforementioned competition - but more of this anon. I must have got something from the site, since I did take a sheaf of photos:

The pods:


So what about this competition, then? Well, I'm glad you asked. Here is the basic info from the notecard available on the island:

Imagine it is the year 2017 and you have the power to create the ideal technology and devices that would fit your lifestyle in your virtual and real-world lives. Technology that would allow you to socialize, communicate, entertain yourself and your friends, get and share information and content, and/or manage appliances and devices in your home.

The Alcatel-Lucent Second Life Island is all about imagining the future and making it happen now. We are opening up our sandbox to the residents of Second Life to inspire them to come up with the future of what the next generation of wireless can bring. This is a call for Xtreme innovation!


  • Latency (lag) problems are a thing of the past (wireless and wireline)
  • Devices are creative flexible and can be designed to meet your needs (oh, and they are affordable too)
  • Wireless streaming of audio and video in real time for unlimited time periods with quality levels equal to the best HDTV
  • Always-on wireless connection with simultaneous use of both voice and data
  • Or how about having your household appliances, car, laptop, and mobile devices have the ability to talk to each other and send data remotely (and yes, this is all really easy to do)
We want you to submit your ideas! Show us the awesome device or technology that would just make your Second Life…or real life, so much better.

If your killer idea wins, you will get 50,000 L$ (about 200 USD or £100), while Alcatel-Lucent get the IPR on your idea, from which they hope to make millions. Good, eh? You have until December 1st to submit your ideas. Personally, I'm keeping mine to myself.