Fleshing Out Online Social Experiences

Media Morph: Web-Wide Virtual Rooms

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Every week Ad Age Digital's Media Morph looks at how emerging technology is changing the way consumers get their information and media companies and advertisers present their messages. This week: web-wide virtual rooms.

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WHAT IT IS: First came destination-site virtual worlds, à la Second Life. The next phase of this virtualization appears to be turning existing places people gather online into 3-D community experiences. And a few technology companies are betting on this approach, including no less than Google, which last week unveiled its version of a virtual world, Lively. A couple of other browser-based companies, Exit Reality and Vivaty, aim to turn social-networking profiles or websites into inhabitable 3-D environments. Users create avatars and decorate their virtual spaces with things such as virtual furniture and YouTube videos. Unlike Second Life, these technologies don't require giant downloads but instead operate using browser plug-ins.

WHO'S USING IT: The first example we found of a brand working with the technology came from Initiative's Innovations unit, which decided the Exit Reality technology would be the perfect opportunity for quick-serve-restaurant client CKE. They struck a deal in which Carl's Jr. and Hardees sponsored the technology and used it to turn the brands' websites into 3-D experiences. They also turned their social-networking presences 3-D and promoted the move on MySpace. Vivaty is working with marketers -- in this case Target and Coke Zero -- to create a virtual-dorm-room Facebook application.

HOW IT'S WORKING: The technologies sound a bit easier than they actually are. On one arguably overstressed computer, there was not enough memory to install Vivaty. And early trials installing the Exit Reality plug-in on Firefox were unsuccessful. (Vivaty also works only on Internet Explorer, although Firefox compatibility is in the cards for both.) Nobody's releasing any numbers, but Marc Simons, project manager in Initiative's Innovations unit, said the brands are "happy" with how it's going and that this is a long-term commitment of at least a year.
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