Twinity: intersection of immersion and State

With a new round of funding in the bank, Twinity is on as firm a ground as it’s ever been. The development of virtual replicas of cities has proven a successful formula to date. Singapore is a Twinity stronghold and a virtual Orchard Road is on the way.

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Two aspects of the Orchard Road announcement caught my interest:

Virtual Singapore was developed in consultation with the Media Development Authority (MDA) and Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA).

and

Twinity is tying up with AsiaOne – the interactive arm of Singapore Press Holdings – to seek retailers, brands and firms interested in promoting their products or space on the virtual ‘Orchard Road’.

Bear with me while I explain some of the intricacies.

The Media Development Authority (MDA) is a government agency that has two main purposes: “The first is to promote the growth of the media industry. The second is to manage content to protect core values and safeguard consumers’ interests“.

The Infocomm Development Authority is also a government agency with the roles of “infocomm industry champion, the national infocomm master-planner and developer, and the Government CIO“.

AsiaOne is a key business within the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) stable. SPH isn’t government owned, but under SIngapore’s Newspaper and Printing Presses Act, no management shares can be transferred without approval of the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA). This is the ministry that oversees the Media Development Authority.

What this means is that the SIngapore Government has direct involvement in the development of virtual SIngapore in Twinity. Nothing wrong with that at all – Australia’s government has played a role in funding virtual world presences, as have a plethora of other governments. What interests me most is the AsiaOne partnership, which is likely to have an advertising revenue focus. If you’re currently a SIngapore business person, you’re likely to have advertised with SIngapore Press Holdings at some stage as it has nearly 80% of the over-15′s market.

What do you do when SPH’s sales team phone you to negotiate your next advertising package and mention you can now advertise in Twinity? If you don’t know that the government have funded the Twinity presence, the less well informed may see it as a gimmick and decline. This is where it gets really interesting: if take up of advertising in Twinity’s virtual Singapore isn’t as great as expected, what happens next? I won’t be surprised if Singapore becomes the first sovereign entity to have virtual world advertising as a standard option for its business owners. The initial acceptance may be limited but the incredibly close government involvement combined with substantial influence over SPH makes for one fascinating and potentially controversial case study of virtual worlds and business. There’s no criticism of Metaversum intended – they have operated as one would expect of a commercial entity. It’s wider issues of politics, media and governance that invite further discussion.

I fired some questions on the issue through to Metaversum’s Managing Director, Jeremy Snyder:

TMJ: Does Metaversum see the Singapore model of government funding combined with a media partnership to drive advertising as one it’s likely to explore in other markets.

Singapore really offered some unique opportunities for us. Their drive to stimulate and showcase innovative companies in the IDM (Interactive Digital Media) space. The media partnership that we entered here is a strong endorsement of our vision. We do see a lot of value in similar strategic partnerships for other markets.

TMJ: Does it see this model working as well as it may do in Singapore where SPH’s management has a close relationship with the government?

Twinity: The relationship between SPH and the Singapore government was not part of the decision process for entering that partnership. Negotiations for funding in 2008 & subsequent negotiations with SPH were entirely different excercises.

TMJ: Does Metaversum have any concerns that potential success in Singapore may be as a result of the unusually tight control on media in Singapore, which may ensure widespread adoption of virtual world advertising as indirect government policy, making it a case study not easily replicated in other markets?

Twinity: Singapore’s media policies in the Internet space really don’t have any affect on our business. Similarly, we do not plan to apply any different standards for content in Twinity’s virtual Singapore than in other locations in Twinity. We feel our success in Singapore and elsewhere will still come back to the core values of Twinity – the connections to real life, the content available, and the strength of the community.

What do you think: is virtual Singapore likely to provide a unique social experiment?

Second Life servers to hit Singapore?

According to the Straits Times, Singapore-based Second Life servers are on their way to Singapore within six months. This is potentially good news for Australian users, although the news would be a lot better if it were Australian servers being announced.

Given the growing focus on Twinity in Singapore, Linden Lab need to be making some strategic moves in South-East Asia. Japan and Australia are the only two countries in the region that make the top twenty for active Second Life users, so there’s plenty of ground to be made up.

Of course, the story could be based on information with a level of veracity matching the ‘real soon now’ claim made by Linden Lab nearly 18 months ago in regard to Australian servers.

‘Amazing Worlds’ release pictures and video

I received a media release from Amazing Worlds (formerly Mirror Worlds), to announce some pictures and video of their offering, which is still under development.

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The photos are located here or check out the video on You Tube :

The new information shows that Amazing Worlds is well underway and it certainly has a Second Life feel about it. Because it’s touted as a 3D tourist world, the standout issue for me is people. Like Second Life, it appears that there’s lots of non-populated space, which gives an extremely different impression than real life. In Second Life that dissonance isn’t a major issue but for a world wanting to give people an immersive example of its real life alternative I believe that’ll be a big challenge. What do you think?

Singapore’s Mirror World shows business promise

I received a press release today from Singapore-based company ‘Virtual Worlds’, touting their Mirror World which is under development and due for launch at the end of this year. The full text of the press release is below by essentially it’s a platform that will allow creation of replicas of real-world locations for the purpose of 3D walk-throughs. It’s aimed squarely at tourism operators and its appeal is obvious. Never been to Egypt? Then do the virtual tour of key locations and decide if it’s the holiday for you.

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It looks promising but like any new development it will face the challenge of a growing number of competitors. Interoperability with other worlds is a holy grail for any option at this stage but any new development needs to take the growing movement in that respect into account.

We’ll be following this development closely and hope to do a more detailed preview in coming months.

The full text:

PRESS RELEASE

22 January 2008, Singapore — Virtual Worlds , developers of the world’s first “Mirror World” ,announces the availability of the world’s first platform for virtual tourism to industry operators today in Singapore.

From key tourism destinations, places of interest , historical sites to realistic full scale 3-Dimensional replicas of entire cities. This mirror world of our existing planet – “Mirror World” allows end users to journey through “virtual words” in the comfort of their homes – creating a brand new exciting marketing tool for tourism industry players like tourism destination operators, Hoteliers, Shopping Malls, Retail Outlets and more to showcase and sell their destinations and facilities to key markets around the world.

What sets Mirror World apart from other 3D environment developers in the market is its commitment to the recreation of reality. All images, environments, content and cityscapes are designed to be as life-like and accurate as possible to the real world. A Beta version of the software with the capability to show certain parts of the world is already available today. The technology today allows support for up to a million objects per view area as well as sound and music , complete with special effects showing realistic weather patterns and powerful animation effects. Providing the most realistic virtual reality tour of any destination available in the market today. The company is already in discussions on several projects with tourism authorities and facilities operators in the region to build 3D replicas of their existing sites. Virtual Worlds expects to completely map the globe in phases, providing a brand new exciting, interactive platform for vacation , travel planning and learning.

Another interesting factor about the platform lies in its ability to be able to import exsiting 3D drawings of existing infrastructure and buildings . That means we can do a
very rapid buildup of the location. Targeted for a world wide launch in end 2008, consumers will be able to explore parts of the world in 3D, meet and chat with friends from all over the world all from their desktop over a internet connection and most importantly win prizes to travel around the world.

“This is an important and necessary step in the development of Virtual Worlds,” said Terence Mak, Director of Virtual Worlds Asia. “Virtual Worlds has always been depicted with a fantasy, its about time we changed that thinking and use of the same technology to make the world a smaller place. Air Travel & Tourism is booming with the availability of budget airlines, consumers are beginning to be more world conscious, what is missing is a technology and a platform to showcase the World in 3D to a global audience. We hope to be the partner with many of the worlds interesting places and help them showcase what they are doing to make the world a more interesting place.”

A more global site will be announced later in the year. For more information, please visit the Virtual Worlds Site.

Update: an interview with Terence Mak can be found here.

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