I’ve been saying it for quite some time… the next generation social network will take the flat 2 dimensional environment currently available on Facebook and Twitter, and turn it into a 3Dimensional environment that will more closely resemble a real time social experience.
This evolution is already underway as explained by Mark Jeffrey in his most recent article titled “The Return of Real-Time Social Environments” – Mashable. As he mentions there are already apps available that can be used with Facebook and Twitter. These apps can integrate with your existing social networks so that you can invite your friends to share in these experiences. One of these examples is Shaker.
Created as a Facebook app, Shaker lets users enter an environment that resembles a bar. You can see and interact with other avatars that look like mannequins. Users can chat, dance, give other users virtual drinks, see which of your Facebook friends are nearby and invite them to join the fun.
To me this idea is only the beginning, you will eventually see fully blown social networks that are designed from the ground up to have this 3dimensional experience built in. You will also see this evolution continue to develop within the existing social network infrastructure, specially since Facebook and Twitter already have the masses actively participating.
One example that I mentioned in a previous blog post would be for a video content provider like Netflix or a movie studio to create an environment where a member can invite his or her friends to go watch a movie, there would be a virtual movie theater where everybody could join in on the fun. The experience of renting a movie and watching it online can now extend from an individual experience typically had in the home to one that will be online with many other users. This will obviously have to be monetized so each guest will have to pay a fee for their movie ticket. The benefit to the content provider is that the content is delivered once to a group of people who can then share in the experience together. The advantage to the user is that he or she can now have more fun watching that video content with his or her friends.
Similar opportunities and environments can be created for other content providers like game developers, can you imagine playing a role playing game like Doom or Mass Effect where your friends can also join in and play in real time within a virtual Game Room of your favorite social network? The possibilities are endless… More to come as I explore this idea further and come up with more cool ideas for the next Social Network.
Max Jeffrey is a serial entrepreneur, podcaster and novelist. He co-founded ThisWeekIn.com, ZeroDegrees, SuperSig and The Palace and is currently writing the sequel to Max Quick: The Pocket and the Pendant (HarperCollins, 2011).
The last few months have seen an explosive resurgence in real-time environments, last popular in the late ’90s. The interesting thing is that this new zeitgeist seems to have taken root in multiple places within the space of a few short weeks.
I’ve seen this all before: I was one of the founders of an avatar chat company called The Palace, Inc. back in 1995. Although quite popular (10 million users at its peak in 1998), The Palace never found a revenue stream that worked. As Jake Winebaum once told me, Palace was a phenomenon, not a business. He was right. But that was then, and this is now.
The New Real-Time Landscape
Let’s examine a few examples. Avatar-based chat room Shaker took the gold two weeks ago at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference. Created as a Facebook app, Shaker lets users enter an isometric environment that resembles a bar. You can see and interact with other fully articulated avatars that look like mannequins. Users can chat, dance, give other users virtual drinks, see which of your Facebook friends are nearby and invite them to join the party. There is no “point” to Shaker interaction; it’s simply fun and engaging.
Then, there’s the twin phenomenon of Turntable.fm and Chill.com. Turntable lets you enter a virtual room (again with an avatar) and either DJ yourself or listen to other users select music. Chill is much the same idea, only it showcases YouTube videos or real-time streamed events. The idea behind both is shared media consumption while chatting with friends as you watch or listen together. If you recall the ’90s show Mystery Science Theatre 3000, you’ll know what I mean.
Worlize.com is perhaps the most Palace-like of the real-time spaces. Allowing for custom avatar uploads and creation of user-owned spaces, Worlize has the expressiveness, color and “aliveness” that made the Palace tick. You can invite your friends to join from Facebook or via a tweeted link. Worlize also allows for a few tricks: embedded YouTube windows and a live feed from your webcam as an avatar option.
Real-Time Tech Has Come of Age
So what’s going on here? Why now, and not back then?
One of the largest challenges we faced back in the ‘90s with these environment
But now, Turntable.fm sends me email whenever one of the DJ’s I follow starts spinning virtual vinyl. And with the Facebook and Twitter integration of all these environments, rallying up an online party is not all that difficult anymore — they’re virtual flashmobs.
One of the largest challenges we faced back in the ‘90s with these environments was getting people to show up at the same time. I can’t tell you how many times I saw a Palace avatar materialize, look around at the empty room and dematerialize — only to have someone else materialize minutes later. There was no way to synchronize people’s participation.
We also faced significant technical challenges back then. The Palace and its competitors required hefty standalone clients or huge Netscape plugins crowbarred into the browser. The frequent changing of avatars, room art and real-time games meant a central server needed to coordinate a large flow of information. The “lag,” as it came to be known, destroyed the illusion of being in a space with other people. Now bandwidth is cheap, content delivery networks deliver art assets quickly, and Twitter and Facebook newsfeeds have pointed the way to solutions once unimaginable.
Lastly, real-time business models have changed significantly over the years. We had three choices with the Palace: charge for the software (nobody wanted to pay because “everything’s free on the Internet!”), charge for registration codes and “extras” (same objection) or charge for advertising. In the ‘90s, however, successful advertising on webpages was akin to sorcery, let alone advertising inside this weird little universe of speech balloons and downloadable clients. We couldn’t convince anyone to advertise at volume.
But again: that was then, and this is now. Zynga and others have shown that the purchase of in-world virtual products to “pimp” your farm, castle, mafia hideout or avatar is a highly lucrative business. Chill is already experimenting with “appointment viewing” of real-time net shows. Recently, the company experimented with This Week In Venture Capital. Finally, I profess that I’ve increased my iTunes purchases thanks to all the new music I’ve discovered within Turntable.fm rooms.
Back to the original question: Why is now the right time for real-time? Why has it grabbed the collective imagination at this exact moment? Simply, it is the last great frontier in social media. It is the logical extension of an already powerful trend.
We’ve been heading this way for some time. First we had Geocities — basically static shrines to this or that topic. Then we had static profiles in Ryze and Friendster and MySpace. Better, but still stale over time. Then Facebook and Twitter materialized, making near-synchronous feeds ubiquitous. It wasn’t quite real-time, but edging in that direction.
Now we’ve finally arrived — real-time is the latest social space. The technology is there and, at last, the right psychology is in place that will make these services explode. And I, for one, welcome our new avatar overlords.