vastpark-logo.jpgOpenSocial, Google’s ambitious project to set standards for developers across Web sites, won accolades all round.

Except for its funky URL: You’ll never remember it.

Guess who owns

Answer: An Australian company called VastPark which, it turns out, has an open vision that is very similar to Google’s. The difference is, VastPark wants to let people port virtual products across virtual worlds. Just as Google wants to be break the vise-lock Facebook has on social networking, VastPark company wants to blow up the closed worlds of Second Life and, says chief executive Bruce Joy. That’s why it bought the OpenSocial URL. It also had a logo (see below) for OpenSocial before Google’s project was announced. Google never approached him about the site, he says.

Joy was elated with the bump in traffic his site got when Google’s project was announced – some 170,000 people hit his site on the first day. He’s not a cybersquatter. He’s got serious plans.

Several other companies compete against VastPark, in trying to make virtual worlds more open. But Joy, who started the company years ago, claims to have a grander vision. Several competitors, including Multiverse and Metaplace, offer software tools to build virtual worlds, but both have shortcomings, he says. Multverse offers tools for developers to build their own World of Warcraft-like virtual games, but doesn’t serve the regular Joe user like you and me.

Metaplace, like VastPark, does target regular users.

opensocial-logo.jpgAlso like VastPark, Metaplace, run by Raph Koster, seeks to let you join up virtual worlds between any place. We’ve covered Metaplace here and here. If you create a virtual world of your own, you can hook it up with mine by creating a virtual door. Open the door, and you enter my world. Kind of cool. There’s the potential for an endless universe.

But Metaplace is limited so far to two dimensions. VastPark, notably, is focused on 3D, which is better than 2D. While everything still fits on your 2D screen, the 3D environment offered by VastPark is like SecondLife. You can turn your character to talk with people and have a private conversation, using space and sound in ways that approach real life. That allows for say, a cocktail event where 80 people show up, something that wouldn’t be possible in 2D, which would force people to be speaking over each other.

However, there are huge trade-offs in using 3D. Koster says he chose to focus on 2D to make his offering easier for users. Anyone can write software to his system, using Metaplace’s markup language, in any format that a browser can support. Making 2D programs is more efficient, because users can embed their worlds in widgets on profile pages of social networks, and use them on mobile phones. Koster says his architecture supports 3D – via a server on his back-end – so that there’s nothing stopping users building 3D clients. He expects to develop an internal 3D client early next year. Koster launched his platform for closed testing last month, and now has 10,000 builders. [Bizarre anecdote: When Koster announced the testing launch, the requests crashed his co-founder’s mobile phone. The requests were for forwarded to the phone, but the phone fell behind at about 5,000 requests, crashing Windows Mobile, and frying the phone.]

Other players include Trevor Smith’s open source project, Ogoglio, and OpenCroquet. Qwaq, a Silicon Valley company has built an application on top of OpenCroquet, which lets companies operate 3D collaborative environments.

VastPark users peer to peer technology for allowing communications between communities.

Both Metaplace and VastPark are letting people test their products, but they aren’t available to the public yet.

VastPark’s Joy says he envisions endless virtual communities, created by anyone, all of which can be connected. A virtual concierge – powered by VastPark — can handle communications with each world.

He’s building VastPark to be compatible with OpenSocial, so anyone on any social network – from Bebo to Orkut – can build a virtual world that connects with all others. He’s also building an application that works on Facebook. Meanwhile, he’s continuing development independent of those two platforms.

Going forward, Joy says, media companies like MTV are going to want to have virtual worlds where users can interact and transit to other worlds. MTV is an early player in virtual worlds, owning eight of them. However, it doesn’t let people leave one of its worlds, say Virtual Laguna Beach, to enter its other worlds.

VastPark’s technology will allow that, and also lets users port content from one world to another, and give owners control over what can be ported. It doesn’t offer a DRM or encryption technology yet, but will focus on allowing portability if a user wants it. So for example, you could build a virtual sports car, and have it perform certain stunts. You could let others port the car, and allow the car to do the same stunts, in their worlds. You can see where this is going. The car could carry a sponsored ad painted on its exterior, for example. On Thanksgiving, the ad might carry an offer for discount turkeys at your local grocery story.

VastPark is bootstrapped. However, Joy says he realizes he needs to seize the day, and is planning to travel to Silicon Valley to visit venture capitalists in short order. He may seek to raise as much as $15 million.

He plans to deliver an open beta later this year, with a first official release early next year.

You can see a YouTube demo of VastPark’s tools below (if you’re on RSS, you’ll have to visit the page to see it).



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