Virtual-Presence.org

Overlay Virtual Worlds

07.08.2008

Virtual presence seems to slowly enter the mainstream. Weblin and RocketOn are mentioned in a recent 50-Virtual-Worlds-Tour video.

The term they use is ""Layered Virtual Worlds" or "Overlay Virtual Worlds". They overlay the Web and create a virtual world on top of web content. Raph Koster calls them the emerging “overlay avatars” space. We do not have a common name yet. Terms I have seen:

  • Layered Virtual Worlds
  • Layered Social Virtual World
  • Layered World
  • Overlay Virtual World
  • Overlay Avatar Space
  • Overlay Avatars

The social web hype points into the same directions. It is partially driven by social networks, which are large, but have no reach beyond their own domain. They try to reach out like Facebook. It is also driven by people who develop social web browsers and social search tools with decent Venture Capital support.

Virtual worlds in general get hundreds of millions US$ investments since Second Life got millions of users and Habbo, Runescape, Barbie Girls, and others even millions of revenue. Even Google participates in embedded virtual spaces. Every week someone announces a new virtual world or an embedded 3D space. The market is by far not full with respect to penetration of the user base. But seems to fill up quickly with respect to available systems.

It will be interesting to see how layered wirtual worlds grow in this environment. A key difference between virtual worlds (embedded or fullscreen) is that they run while people use the web. Layered virtual worlds do not compete with other virtual worlds. They rather share the web browsing time and run while the user is outside of virtual worlds anyway. But they do compete for attention, money, and the user's willingness to register with yet another virtual world and create yet another avatar.

The family of layered virtual worlds is still very small. Expect it to grow once the big players discover this new space. They will discover the chance to break out of the crowded virtual world market soon, probably less than 24 months.

Interesting times for virtual presence aka layered virtual worlds.

 

Skabble

13.07.2008

Skabble just started with an interesting virtual presence application. Skabble is an instant messenger with a special focus on meeting people on web pages.

There is a small indicator on every web page in the lower left corner (similar to weblin and RocketOn) that shows how many people are on the same page. You can click on it and open a kind of browser "sidebar" at the lower border, which shows a chat window. You chat with people on the same domain name or sub-domain.

You can chat with people on the same page, but also (and interestingly) with people visiting other similar pages. Web pages are categorized and you can click on the category. Categories are (currently?) drawn from the DMOZ open directory project. This means that only big sites are categorized. But it is a very interesting idea.

Links:

http://mashable.com/2008/07/08/skabble/

http://skabble.com/

 

 

ROCKETON

02.06.2008

ROCKETON recently started the alpha phase of their virtual presence client. I am very excited about this system, because it seems to be a fully featured virtual presence system. Fully featured is almost too weak. In addition to the usual "chat with avatars on any web pages", it has public chat, a buddy list, items, a shop, avatar customization, worm holes, interactive items, and probably much more.

ROCKETON Inc. is a San Francisco based company. The team seems to be very strong. They have experience lots of in the gaming industry and where responsible for major game titles. The company is quite well equipped with at least 5 Mio US $.

The client is in Flash 9. It produces a small icon in the lower right corner. Once you activate it it opens a flash based tool bar at the lower border of the browser. Activating it on a page also shows your and other people's avatars.

The flash is a layer above the web site. You can not click the page content while it is active. Rather, clicking directs the avatar to go to the position. Avatars walk over the entire page and beyond. The display always tries to keep my avatar on the screen by scrolling the scene. Other avatars are shown by small circles at the web page border to indicate that they are off the visible area, nice concept.

The protocol is straight forward. It uses a Comet style long-polling to keep a connection always open which the server can use to send a message to a client. Definitely the way to go in an HTTP environment. If you can sustain thousands of TCP connections on the server. I suppose they can. At least it's not a prefork-apache.

If I chat a small text, then I see a HTTP POST (formatted and stripped down to the important stuff) with HTML form data:

  POST /chat-web/chat?Chat HTTP/1.1
Host: chat.rocketon.com
Cookie: JSESSIONID=xxxxxxxx
Content-Type: application/x-www-form-urlencoded
Content-Length: 86
GZeNqzSc7JTM0riS8oyi/JT87PseNSULBJzkgssbNRjHZ2cQxxjE7LLCouUQCJxcba2eiDJbmANJpGAL2cGcs=

The chat text seems to be encrypted. It is not just base64 encoded as the trailing "=" suggests. (OK, you got me). I get a response immediately, which has the text I just typed and my position. This probably also goes to all other people on the page at the same time. The message is delivered as a HTTP response to an open request with XML body.

  HTTP/1.1 200 OK
  Content-Type: text/xml; charset=iso-8859-1
Content-Length: 281
Server: Jetty(6.1.9)
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<events>
<event type="message" room_name="www.google.com">
<member username="Wolfspelz" uid="107511" x="176" y="619" /> <message>GZeNqzSc7JTM0riS8oyi/JT87PseNSULBJzkgssbNRjHZ2cQxxjE7LLCouUQCJxcba2eiDJbmANJpGAL2cGcs=</message>
</event>
</events>
The client immediately opens the next long-poll request:
  GET /chat-web/chat HTTP/1.1
Host: chat.rocketon.com
Connection: Keep-Alive
Cookie: JSESSIONID=xxxxxxxx

No I walk and my client sends the final position, no intermediate positions:

  POST /chat-web/member HTTP/1.1
Host: chat.rocketon.com
Connection: Keep-Alive
Cookie: JSESSIONID=xxxxxxxx
x-method: PUT
Content-Type: application/x-www-form-urlencoded
Content-Length: 11
x=647&y=528

As expected I get a message as a long-poll response:

  HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Content-Type: text/xml; charset=iso-8859-1
Content-Length: 188
Server: Jetty(6.1.9)
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<events>
<event type="room" room_name="www.google.com" action="moved">
<member username="Wolfspelz" uid="107511" x="647" y="528" />
</event>
</events>

And then the obligatory long-poll request to set things up for the next seerver to client message:

  GET /chat-web/chat HTTP/1.1
Host: chat.rocketon.com
Connection: Keep-Alive
Cookie: JSESSIONID=xxxxxxxx

I wish they would use location mapping and an existing chat protocol. But you can't have it all.

I wonder why ROCKETON requires to open Port 843 outgoing. That's clearly the Flash player 9 policy file download. But they do HTTP long-polling and they install as a browser helper. Why do they still need the flash policy. The flash policy is for socket connections. They should be able to do without by loading everything via the browser's HTTP client or by using a custom HTTP client. Images and everything visible is usually HTTP. The chat protocol also as described above. No idea yet why they need flash socket connections in addition to HTTP.

So much for now.

Links:

http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/02/11/rocketon-gets-5-m-for-embeddable-virtual-kids-world/

http://www.rocketon.com/

http://www.rocketon.com/a/

 

 

BumpIn

02.06.2008

I just ran into a (relatively) new browser sidebar, that lets people chat on web pages. My #9 on the browser-extension-for-chat-on-web-pages list. It looks very nice, includes a buddy list, and a discussion feature where you can discuss about all web pages. So, you can actually leave notes on a web page and othe rpeople can comment. BumpIn also provides a Web Widget that can be integrated into web pages as a chat channel on the page, comparable to so called "shout boxes". On top of that, BumpIn has a zero-install mode where the target page is iframe-d. That makes it my #6 prefix-your-URL-and-get-an-IFRAME system.

"Often we cross paths on the Internet, now we can BumpIn! Ever wondered who else is doing the same thing as you on the Web? Wanted to connect with those who share your interests? Now you can BumpIn! BumpIn lets you discover people with similar interests, chat with them and make friends. BumpIn will redefine the concept of social browsing and networking."

BumpIn is primarily programmed in Flash/ActionScript. It requires the Flash 9 player.

The protocol seems to be pretty straight forward. Requests go with mimetype application/x-www-form-urlencoded. Responses are XML. If I send a "testchat" on the web site "http://www.heise.de/newsticker", then the form-POST looks like:

      server=bumpin_saosy
      &from_mailbox=mailbox_cbort
      &mtype=broadcast
      &nick_name=Wolfspelz
      &text=testchat
      &url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Eheise%2Ede%2Fnewsticker
      &uid=252944
      

The response is basically a "ok, thanks":

      <message>
        <rtype>response</rtype>
        <mtype>r_broadcast</mtype>
        <reply>success</reply>
        <reply_url>http://www.heise.de/newsticker</reply_url>
      </message>
      

Half a second later I see a www-form-urlencoded request:

      server=mailbox_cbort
      &mtype=get_msgs
      &digest=a96280cb4075d60f30d6e02db0db5588
      &uid=252944
      

And my chat text in the response:

      <message>
        <rtype>response</rtype>
        <mtype>r_get_msgs</mtype>
        <reply>success</reply>
        <msg>
          <type>broadcast_msg</type>
          <from_uid>252944</from_uid>
          <text>testchat<</text>
          <from_url>http://www.heise.de/newsticker</from_url>
          <from_mailbox>mailbox_cbort</from_mailbox>
          <nick_name>Wolfspelz</nick_name>
        </msg>
      </message>
      

BumpIn seems pretty solid. My impression is, that we are approaching the second generation of these browser based virtual presence tools. BumpIn has the necessary features. I am tempted to say the "usual" features, like chat, buddies, discussion, but not much more. It looks like the developers have seen earlier tools and that they just did the right things omitting ballast and special gimmicks. In other words: the typical feature set seems to settle down.

No company address is given, so I have to guess, sorry guys. The BumpIn domain is registered to a Pakistani address. That fits to the team page, which is quite cool actually. BumpIn went into beta in 2007. It's out now. Still small scale, but if the blogosphere picks it up it can soar quickly.

BTW: I am curious when we see the next avatar/chat balloon system. BumpIn is still in the typical sidebar/chat-in/chat-out paradigm.

BumpIn.com

 

VPTN-5 published

15.05.2008

Bots in chat rooms of virtual presence locations may appear like avatars of real people. They can not be distinguished easily. This document specifies a way to describe the purpose of a bot. The description is primarily machine readable so, that client software can compare user preferences with the description and inform users appropriately.

VPTN-5: Bot Tagging

 

VP mapping log

07.05.2008

Changes to the location mapping system (LMS) will now be published in a blog: http://lmsoplog.blogspot.com/

Please add your comments and suggestions.

 

Me.dium turns away from VirtualPresence

30.04.2008

Browser sidebar Me.dium concentrates on presence and actions of friends. It now has similar functionality to Flock, the social browser. What strikes most is, that you won't be able to meet new people as in the past. The original idea of meeting people who have the same interests is gone.

Me.dium takes away a feature, adds better one to replace it

 

VPTN-4 published

29.04.2008

This document describes how virtual presence (VP) uses XMPP [1][2] as a VP transport protocol. It describes extensions to XMPP multi user chat [3] (MUC). Basically, VP uses plain XMPP and MUC plus few extensions to MUC. The extensions augment the user representation with additional user information like avatars, avatar positions and states.

VPTN-4: XMPP

 

weblin.lite

23.04.2008

Weblin.lite is the small sister of weblin. It is Javascript only, works in IE, Firefox, Opera, Safari. Weblin.lite shows people on a web page as avatars.

Weblin.lite is a full Jabber/XMPP client implemented in Javascript. It uses http-bind to communicate with a XMPP server, which means, that the protocol is XMPP encapsulated in HTTP. Weblin.lite is compatible with weblin since it uses XMPP, the same location mapping, and the same user data. Both weblin and weblin.lite users see each other on the same web page.

Weblin.lite is my 5th prefix-your-URL-and-get-an-IFRAME system on the list. Though, with animated avatars and speech balloons instead of a chat window.

Links:
weblin.lite
weblin
VPTN-2: Location mapping
VPTN-3: User data

Xpanity

22.04.2008

Chatsum is a browser-extension-for-chat-on-web-pages. My #8 on the list. Remarkably Xpanity is available for Firefox (as an extension) and IE (as browser helper).

The protocol seems to be XML based.

Not many users. The Xpanity web site has a "Web Map", which claims 35 users on youtube, but when I went there I found nobody, just old chat lines. They had no timestamp, so I can not really judge how old. But 35 visitors seems like an exaggeration. At least nobody answered.

Xpanity

 

PMOG

11.03.2008

PMOG stands for Passively Multiplayer Online Game.

It is a very intersting idea. PMOG makes the Web a play field of an MMOG. The concept sounds like WebWars, the browsergame based on the EVE Online universe.

I can't tell better in my own words, so I let this anouncement speak:

"PMOG transforms the existing topography of the internet into a game world for players to vandalize, annotate, and curate. Players experience PMOG through a Head-Up Display overlay in the Firefox web browser. This HUD interface allows players to play with each other through the world wide web, creating information quests, laying mines and building defenses around web sites. Order or chaos, destructive or productive - players choose their alignment by the way they surf and the way they use the tools of PMOG."

From the PMOG about page:

"PMOG is an infinite game built on individual network histories, transforming our web surfing into ongoing social play. With a game head-up display in Firefox, players can bomb each other, wage war over web sites, and lead other users on web missions. Ordinary web sites become caches for items and currency. PMOG fuses an MMO into our WWW."

Links:
PMOG
GameLayers
"PMOG: The Web as a Play Field" at SXSW

Google Chatback

26.02.2008

A Google Talk chatback badge will let visitors to your web page chat with you. They'll be able to chat with you whenever you're signed in to Google Talk. as response. Simple and effective. Nice design. But not many users as far as I can see. Seems, that the creator works on other projects now.

The chatback setup page offers an IFRAME which can be embedded into any web page. The code shows something like:

Why is this important to virtual presence? This is a signal, that another major player enters the field of chat-on-web-pages. In this case at least to make web page owners aware of visitors and visitors aware of the online status of page authors.

Google Chatback

 

Chatsum

15.02.2008

Chatsum is the latest firefox-extension-for-chat-on-web-pages I learned about. My #7, but it seems to be online quite a while. There are chat entries from 751 days ago and screenshots show news pages 2 years ago.

The protocol is based on HTTP FORM POST from client to server and Javascript fragments from server to client. I sent a "test text" and the network shows something like:

uid=NGNBYw%3D%3D&cid=Y01F&lid=755644&pc=test+text

as request and:

<script>uc([[755721, 'Wolfspelz', 'ff6600', 'fff4c7', 'test text', 1203106150]], 1203106150, 'Y01F');</script>

as response. Simple and effective. Nice design. But not many users as far as I can see. Seems, that the creator works on other projects now.

Links:
Chatsum
George Grinsted
 

Creating a Web of Worlds

13.01.2008

Cory Ondrejk, coFounder and exCTO of Linden Lab tested Metaplace and comments:

"At heart, Metaplace is a lightweight protocol for lightweight communication through the Web, and one of the ways that he sees designers using Metaplace is as a way of letting users experience each other's presence online. Anything that causes the two of us to know we're both on the Web together makes the Web a better place. A big part of what makes interaction in virtual worlds so compelling compared to the Web is the fact that we both know we're there. It isn't the same as leaving bread crumbs on a blog to show that you were there."

This, sounds very much like virtual presence. What Areae announced was a Web of Worlds. Maybe what they are really doing is Worlds on the Web. We will see.

Links:
Creating a Web of Worlds
Metaplace
Cory Ondrejka
 

WebWars: EVE

05.11.2007

John Galt Games announces a new browser game called WebWars: EVE. It's a browser based war game that focuses on conquering and controlling web territories, i.e. web sites.

The game is free to play but gamers can buy WebWars money (isk) for faster enhancements. A business model already established in many browser games and east asian MMORPGs.

The game is not connected with CCP's EVE Online. It uses the same background story, the same name for the in-game money, but you won't be able to convert money or items between WebWars and EVE Online. It seems to be the first licensed use of the EVE IP following a EVE Online card game by CCP that also built on the same IP.

The interesting point in the virtual presence sense is, that every website on the internet is a valid territory. They treat web sites as spaces, that can be visited, conquered, and owned. The value of a web site is based on it's real world visits. The game uses a browser plug-in to track your navigation and enable the game play on the pages you visit with your fleet.

Links:
http://www.webwars.com/
http://www.massively.com/tag/eve-online-webwars/
 

Ogoglio

06.10.2007

Ogoglio just came to my attention. It is an open project which aims to put together a world of interconnected (3d) spaces with web technologies.

The web site provides general remarks and statements and not very much detail. Well, the project seems to be driven by few people and they have probably more to do than updating the web site. There is a Sourceforge account and there seems to be SVM activity. Sourceforge says a bit more about what the Ogoglio project does. There are few screenshots and documentation. Most interesting is this concept right.

Ogoglio is a project, not a product. It is under Apache License V2.0 and seems to be driven by a company called Transmutable.

This seems to be the time for virtual spaces which integrate with the Web and which are built on web technologies. The concept is very close to what Media Machines is doing and Metaplace.

Some dates:
The domain has been registred registered: 2006-05-21. Sourceforge started December 2006. Sourceforge attention starts May 2007. There was SVN activity in all 2007, but it shows a recent increase since July.

Links:
Ogoglio.com
Sourceforge
Transmutable

(Source: Ogoglio project)

Areae: Metaplace.com

19.09.2007

Last year Raph Koster, MMORPG veteran (UO, SWG), founded a company after leaving SOE to make his own vision of an MMOG come true. The company (Areae) just announced what the have been working on for the last year and what they will be working on until next spring's beta: Metaplace.

Metaplace is a collection of virtual worlds, which can be built easily based on Areae's tools and third party tools. The worlds can be linked to create a big meta-world where avatars will be able to move between worlds. It's all built on web technologies: the worlds can be embedded into web pages, e.g. your myspace profile, components are web components loaded from URLs, worlds are web servers and objects are web objects represented by URLs. In short: Web 2.0 meets MMOGs.

You wont need the equivalent of Second Life or World Of Warcraft clients installed on your machine, youll just need Metaplace. Anyone will be able to make an online world in five minutes, and dropping in and out of different online spaces will be as easy as surfing web pages. Its Internet 2.0

The two facts that these worlds can be embedded into web pages and that avatars move between worlds puts the whole thing into the vitual presence neighborhood. Also interesting: already known was that Charles River Ventures and Crescendo Ventures put money into Areae. Charles River Ventures has a big fund and since Raph Koster already proved that he can build commercially successful MMOGs, I suspect, that Areae got a decent amount of money. Something you can really work with and hopefully enough to build the next generation of open MMOGs. But money is not all you need.

BTW: this seems to be the month of web based virtual worlds and virtual world creation tools. See the previous news entry.

Links:
Metaplace
Areae
Charles River Ventures
Crescendo Ventures
 

Media Machines gets $9.4M

04.09.2007

Media Machines gets $9.4M venture capital money from investors lead by Mohr Davidow Ventures. The company offers a 3D world editor and a browser plugin for IE and Firefox. The founder Tony Parisi was very active in VRML development some years ago. He is now working on X3D, the VRML successor with some other brilliant technologists in different fields. Interestingly, there is also strong know-how in virtual human body animation (avatars!) in the company.

This is not completely virtual presence news, more about boxed virtual worlds, than virtual presence, but since Media Machines focuses on browsers as interface it is related to virtual presence. The step for Media Machines is smaller, than for all the other boxed virtual world clients which are popping up in the wake of the Second Life hype.

http://www.thealarmclock.com/mt/archives/2007/09/3d_world_creato.html
http://www.pehub.com/article/articledetail.php?articlepostid=7281

 

iosurf

31.08.2007

Iosurf uses a proprietary scalable protocol which sends XML and HTTPS. Users see friends online, LiveUsers on the same domain name, and there is a forum attached to the URL where people even can leave messages.

IOSurf is a browser plugin. It opens a side bar and shows poeple on the same web site. Version 2.0 Beta currently available for IE6 and above.

http://www.iosurf.com/

 

VPTN-3 published

22.08.2007

A virtual presence client needs information to display people who meet. It needs a name, an image, maybe an animated avatar, and more. This document describes the storage and exchange of public user identity data. The virtual presence identity data format is optimized for VP applications, where many people need the publich data of their peers, some only once, some repeatedly, where changes happen frequently and must be propagated quickly with minimum bandwidth.

VPTN-3: User Data

 

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