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The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Internet Evolution (USA) – New Virtual Worlds Still Growing. “It may be tempting to assume that growth in virtual worlds has ground to a halt. After all, There.com has shut down, and Second Life is losing land area and has stopped publishing most usage statistics. Attention has shifted to social networking platforms and mobile devices. But the action hasn’t died off. Instead, it has shifted to proprietary, enterprise-class platforms like Teleplace, ProtoSphere, and VenueGen — and to the open-source platform, OpenSim. Based on reports from educational institutions, non-profit groups, and hosting and consulting firms, I estimate that OpenSim currently has between 500,000 and 1 million users. These users are scattered across hundreds, or thousands, of private virtual worlds running on the OpenSim platform.”

2. New Scientist (USA) – CGI tricks: Slicing virtual dessert is a piece of cake. “As virtual worlds become increasingly interactive, animators have to make sure that objects within them don’t just look good on the surface, but also remain realistic when they are manipulated. This is harder to achieve with some objects than with others. Cut through a virtual sponge, for example, and the texture remains the same all the way through. But take a slice through a kiwi fruit, and the cross section will look different depending on where you cut it, and along which axis. Previous methods of modelling 3D shapes worked for objects with a uniform texture. But according to Kenshi Takayama from the University of Tokyo, it couldn’t handle objects with more complicated texture orientations such as kiwi fruit and tree stumps.”

3. Austin News KXAN (USA) – Virtual world helps in murder case. “Justice moved swiftly in the case of a man who shot his estranged wife in the head in plain sight in an Austin park last October, and now Hernan Mendieta, 35, is sentenced to 60 years in prison, just three months later. It was a virtual world created by a witness that showed Austin police what he saw after he jogged in Brushy Creek Park. Thomas Jung works creating virtual worlds for computer games. He was able to reproduce for police via animation what he saw on the morning of Oct. 26, 2010 . His witness information helped in the murder case.”

4. Mobile Entertainment (UK) – Virtual world Meez goes mobile with Android, iPhone and iPad apps. “Teen-focused virtual world Meez is launching MeezNation, a spin-off making its debut on Android and iOS devices. With more than 15 million users, Meez is one of the popular virtual worlds aimed at teenagers. Now it’s going mobile, with plans to launch a new cross-platform spin-off called MeezNation. It will launch next week with an Android app, with iPhone and iPad versions to follow in March, before ultimately extending onto the Google TV and Xbox Live platforms too.”

5. Fast Company (USA) – Egypt: Social Media as a Life or Death Proposition. “Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians, many wearing bandages from from days of street fighting, turned out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday for what they are calling the ‘Day of Departure’, a nationwide cry for the immediate removal and prosecution of Hosni Mubarak who has ruled the country for 30 years. This story is now larger than Egypt and the Arab world, as international news coverage and social media has broadcast the escalating violence around the world, time and again featuring Egyptian citizens dying and risking death in order to have their message heard and for regime change to become a reality. Egypt is widely considered the litmus test for what will happen in the rest of the Arab world, but the importance of social media in its political transformation is larger than that. The use of social media in Egypt is a dramatic demonstration of a clash of cultures — of the old and new, of violence and peace, of the past and future.”

6. New Media Age (UK) – Branded virtual worlds. “With a tin man, talking lion, living scarecrow and winged monkeys, the parallel universe of Oz, invented by author L Frank Baum and made famous by the 1939 Judy Garland film, has been catapulted into the 21st Century. Tapping into a trend for transmedia storytelling, Summertime Entertainment aims to reinvigorate the Oz franchise with not only a new animated film, Dorothy of Oz, but an immersive virtual world game, Adventure in Oz. The project, launched on the Dubit platform, is riding a wave of businesses seeking brand engagement and ROI. Virtual worlds analysis company KZero reports there are now over a billion users of virtual worlds globally, 97% of them under 25. According to Matthew Warneford, chief technical officer at Dubit, virtual worlds are convening with trends in both gaming and socialising online.”

7. Confectionary News (France) – US chocolatier develops virtual factory world. “US confectioner Tcho is developing a virtual factory world which will allow customers and employees to interact online with the company’s chocolate processing facility. The iPhone application developed by Tcho and FXPal that controls the factory’s machines. Real-time sensor data and video is imported from hundreds of sensors on the 30,000-square-foot factory in San Fransisco to create the computer-based environment. “Different users can see different aspects of the data; for instance, we are designing ways for customers to track their own product from point of origin to finished product,” Larry Del Santo, marketing manager for Tcho told ConfectioneryNews.com. “In the future, visitors will be able to choose avatars and interact with each other as well as the factory itself,” said Del Santo. He said the technology will allow the company to create multi-user collaborative spaces for tasks like factory observation, virtual inspections, customer visits, employee training, process monitoring, and inventory tracking. The software is being developed by FXPal, Fuji Xerox’s research lab in Palo Alto, California. Here researchers explore how new technologies like mobile augmented reality, virtual worlds, and social media can be applied in manufacturing.”

8. WVEC (USA) – Congressmen: Modeling and simulation saves money, helps train forces. “When it comes to preparing for combat, nothing can replace hands-on training. Modeling and simulation can get close. Homeland security and military defense are some of the applied research areas at the ODU Virginia Modeling and Simulation Center in Suffolk. The 50 faculty members and research scientists can create virtual worlds for training – like landing an airplane at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. “Modeling and simulation has been shown to be able to save money, use resources more efficiently and you can do things and other activities rather than real life, you save substantial sums of money,” notes Rep. Bobby Scott (D-3rd D).”

9. VentureBeat (USA) – Virtual world Habbo hits more than 200M registered users. “If you’re a teen, chances are you’ve checked into the Habbo Hotel. Sulake, the parent company of the cartoon-style virtual world, said today that more than 200 million people have registered as users for Habbo. That means they’ve created a virtual character called a Habbo. The virtual community is more than 10 years old. It started in Finland and has now grown to more than 150 countries. While traffic to virtual worlds has waned in the age of Facebook and the iPhone, Habbo’s numbers show it has fared well and is growing quickly. It shows that once a community hits critical mass, its growth can accelerate.”

10. Nextgov (USA) – Army taps Second Life for troop and family support. “The Army is bringing a program to improve troops’ physical and emotional well-being into the Second Life virtual world. The service is strengthening its Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, established in 2008, with a “virtual resiliency” campus on an Army island in Second Life, said Maj. Gen. Reuben Jones, commander of the Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command. The campus will offer soldiers and their families exercise tips as well as online, avatar-led classes to improve their physical fitness. The emotional, social, family and spiritual sections will help troops develop coping mechanisms and deal with post-deployment readjustment, Jones said. Should soldiers need more help, the campus will be backed by a network of volunteers recruited through the Army chaplain’s office, said Shaunya Murrill, chief of the outreach and strategic integration division in the command’s family programs directorate.”