Who says you need fancy office space to produce great rich media technology? If the web had gone the way it was supposed to go, we'd be looking at content in 3D.
It was dij` vu as I made the rich media rounds in San Francisco last week. Creeping through a hallway that seemed more like a storage closet than a hip San Francisco Internet company's headquarters, I paid a visit to the offices of Shout Interactive (proving that you don't need fancy office space to produce great technology). As I turned the corner, I literally ran into two old friends from the ancient Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) days: Barrett Fox and Ben de Leeuw.
Back in ancient times when VRML was actually a cool thing, Fox and de Leeuw created some of the most interesting and slightly whacked-out 3D that was on the web at the time, first at the now-defunct Intervista Software and later at their own company, Infoplasm. They created the kind of content that, well... if the web had gone the way it was supposed to go, this would have been the kind of content we'd be reading today -- creative and funny with a great home-grown feel. They once created a 3D navigation system for some portal (ZDNet, I think) so ephemeral that it could only have been designed, and actually used, by them.
Fox and de Leeuw have a true love for things 3D and still write a column for 3Dgate.com (the last remaining vestige of 3D Design Magazine). They're now at Shout, still doing the same wild and crazy stuff they always have. De Leeuw showed me latest thing he's working on using the Eyematic software: a fox head that animates in perfect sync to his own head as he talks to me, including his eye blinks and other facial movements. Eyematic, which acquired Shout this summer, develops software that creates facial animation in real time by pointing a video camera at a person's face.
To see what I mean, check out this nice little Halloween movie that was created using the Eyematic software and Shout3D. Java-based 3D rendering engine. Click on the pumpkin to see the facial animation in operation. All the mouth, eye, and eyebrow movements are created in real time as the actor is speaking, dramatically reducing the cost and difficulty of creating accurate and expressive 3D facial animation.
While you're looking at the animation, you'll notice a couple of things. First, you don't have to download a plug-in. That's because the Shout 3D rendering engine is completely Java based and doesn't require a proprietary plug-in. The second thing you'll notice is the quality of the rendering. The transparent fog that rolls in is made with an advanced technique called alpha blending. Very cool.
Using Java has distinct advantages over some of the other 3D solutions out there. For instance, Amazon.com discovered that five out of nine people don't even look at a product demonstration if it requires downloading a plug-in first, so the company doesn't utilize any plug-in technologies, including Flash. But it does use Shout 3D. Check out these examples. Here's one for the Razor Scooter. This one lets you play the game Quatro before you buy it. And here's one more for the kid in you.
The problem with using a plug-in is that your business plan is always consumed with distribution concerns. Massive amounts of time, trouble, angst, and justifications get sucked into the black hole called plug-in distribution, and it's not pretty. Shout prefers not to spend a lot of time and money on office space and distribution. It'd rather make money and spend its time creating cool little animations, like the kind Fox and de Leeuw have always done. Not a bad trade off.
Trouble in Email Land
I've known about the troubles over at inChorus.com for a few weeks but kept my mouth shut until it was made public. Now it seems that not only is its financial plight public, but all sorts of improprieties are starting to pop up (according to an article that ran on internet.com), including an investigation by the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission. I ran into Carol Prior, inChorus.com 's VP of sales, in San Francisco also. She was holding up a brave front but looked a little worn out. Of all the rich media email companies out there, inChorus.com was one of the ones I always felt a little funny about, an intuitive sense of foreboding. I never talked about the company in any of my speeches or presentations. Maybe it has something to do with leadership. When you speak with people such as Bruce Stein at Radical Communication, Blair Lyon at TMXinteractive, or Russ Gillam at Dynamics Direct, you just feel that rich media email is the future. With inChorus.com, the future seemed like a one-way trip to the lost letter department. May it rest in peace.
Until next week, keep it rich!
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Bill McCloskey is the founder and chief evangelist for Email Data Source, a competitive intelligence resource for e-mail marketers. He was named one of online advertising's 50 most influential people by "Media" magazine and one of the 100 people to know by "BtoB Magazine." He's been a recognized pioneer in interactive advertising for over 10 years.
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