Four Worlds of 3D at Internet World

There was a palpable sense of panic at Internet World this week, and as I looked across the skyline of booths, I wondered how many would be retired to that big trade show in the sky by the next Internet World. (There must be a great business for recycled trade-show booths somewhere.)

Some exhibitors seem to have just given up: I was amazed at the lack of trade-show etiquette displayed by some of the booth personnel. I can’t tell you how many booths I stopped by where the booth babes and buddies were too busy telling each other jokes to answer any of my questions. Ah, well, while Rome is burning…

There was little rich media to be seen in this mess, but, interestingly enough, there were at least four vendors displaying various forms of 3D technology. Those of you who read this column regularly know that I have a soft spot for 3D, so it was fascinating to look at each of these vendors and realize each has found a different and unique angle to this technology.

The newest kid on the block (and the least interesting in my opinion) was a French company called Cryonetworks. This site is like the old Avatar chat world/1-meg download type of thing that gave 3D a bad name in the first place.

As stated on its web site, “Cryonetworks boldly affirms its ambition to be a byword among the players who count in the on-line universe. For this market, everything is still to be invented. And for Cryonetworks, each new product should be both a technological innovation and a breaking of new ground.” They should be, but, unfortunately, they’re not, at least not at Cryonetworks.

To break new ground, you needed to go downstairs and visit the Active Worlds booth. Hey, did I say that the whole Avatar chat thing was a loser? Active Worlds is the exception that disproves the rule. These guys know how to play the game, and they’ve been at it and have hung in there successfully and profitably for years. Active Worlds is really owned by the community that forms it and creates its own little environments.

Looking at a satellite map of the community looks like an aerial view of Los Angeles. This is the kind of place where people get lost for years. (I’m not kidding — I almost didn’t get this column written because I was having such a cool time wandering around.) People meet, make up games, build their homes, and even get married here.

Hey, you free ISP companies out there: Looking for a way to keep your customers online and looking at your ads? How about putting them on 3D billboards strewn around a very cool 3D world they can chat in? This is the very strategy that Active Worlds has been pursuing, and it just created a very nifty world for the customers of Juno to wander around in.

Pulse Entertainment has taken a very different tact with 3D by enabling some of the very coolest entertainment on the web. If you want to instantly understand why 3D is inherently better than video on the web, you only need to check out Li’l Green Men on the Entertaindom site. Pulse’s business strategy is to license its technology to web sites to increase stickiness and increase customer retention. They’re responsible for the technology behind NBC’s Virtual Jay and, of course, Virtual Bill.

And finally, RichFX was hanging out in the RealNetworks booth (and it’s easy to understand why). Its latest player fits snuggly inside the RealPlayer plug-in and enables it to play in-stream 3D ads with a quality that puts the fuzzy, compressed video streams that follow it to shame.

Check out the mayonnaise and cereal ad examples on the RichFX site to see what I mean. Unlike the “environmental” 3D of Active Worlds and Cryonetworks, both Pulse and RichFX have eliminated user navigation, opting for a more television-like experience. Except for a hard-core niche of gamers and chatters, I think it’s the most effective approach for successful 3D deployment.

Well, if you’ve gone ahead and checked out every example mentioned in this article, you’ve had to download more than 3 megs of plug-ins by now and are probably ready to kill me. But look at it this way: You now have four very cool 3D players on your machine, ready for the world on at least a 56K modem. A few years ago, I made my living trying to convince people it was a great idea to download a single 3D player (which was 3.5 megs by itself) over a 28.8 line. Now that is training grounds for a true evangelist. Until next week, keep it rich.

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