August 29, 2010
Wikipedia for the 3D Internet
That's what the headline ("A backroom team in the UK have built a world map that they hope could become the Wikipedia of a 3D internet") over Victor Keegan's October 28, 2009 Guardian story says, more or less.
Shows what I know: I'm so far behind the dimensional curve I've yet to see "Avatar 3D" — but that's gonna be remedied this week.
In his blog post about the project Keegan wrote, "If I hadn't sampled it I wouldn't have believed it."
Caption for the video up top: "Sneak preview of an amazing three dimensional model of the entire planet on which anyone can build their own homes or shops anywhere. It was built by a team led by Michael Fotoohi, managing director of Micazook.com and a bunch of friends all working in their spare time.... Think Wikipedia meets Google Earth (Google Earth it isn't)."
Below is Keegan's most interesting article about the small group of British software engineers who, over the past five years, working in the their spare time, have built a 3D version of the entire planet that they believe is better than Google Earth.
I intended to give the 3D internet a miss for a while after writing last week. But that was before Mike Fotoohi, a freelance software engineer from London, emailed me. When he told me that he and a few friends, working for five years in their spare time, had built a 3D version not just of capital cities, as others have, but of the entire planet that was better than Google Earth, my first reaction was to get off the phone pronto.
But his enthusiasm was infectious and it ended up with him bringing his own bulky PC to our house for a demo. I was impressed. He uses public resources such as US aerial maps, geographical data from GIS.com and the wonderful openstreetmap.org, in which people the world over are mapping streets for public benefit. His team has welded the data from these sources together using their own 3D engine to reproduce every street on the planet in three dimensions. Unlike Google Earth or other versions you can, in theory, walk around the entire world with your avatar, or "virtual you".
They have mapped streets in central New York in detail and an avatar – customised to look like me – successfully wandered around the Times Square area (hhttp://bit.ly/timessq). Buildings further away become 3D shells as his team hasn't the resources to fill in details.
How can he get around this? Simple. Anyone, anywhere can build on the 3D foundations of any mapped house in the world. He wants it to be the Wikipedia of a 3D internet with a revenue stream to finance expansion which their own company, micazook.com, can't afford. When those who build houses get to a trusted level they can become moderators, just as happens with Wikipedia. He hopes to make money by having three levels of membership (homeless, visitors and residents) allowing anyone to buy and sell land, buildings, clothes etc or run clubs with his company getting a percentage. There could be a speculative land grab when it goes public. There is already a virtual casino and he demoed an engaging kids' game of sheep being rounded up into a pen.
That there is a market is shown by Second Life, which will generate $500m this year from buying and selling virtual goods such as land and clothing. Eventually, they hope to let residents elect mayors to govern in a democratic fashion. Second Life cost tens of millions of dollars to build.
It is amazing that a few backroom guys in the UK even dare to challenge giants like Google by working in their spare time, using up less than £50,000 so far. They are very focused and have made very clever use of public resources. Their unique contribution is a software "engine" that takes raw data and converts it into a 3D space. There are no patents on it – apparently it is hard to get them on physics engines – but they claim a two- to three-year start over Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, from which they didn't even get a reply when they asked for help.
On the basis of other virtual worlds I have seen, they ought not to have much trouble raising venture capital despite a lack of patents. They will need a lot of money to buy servers to support lots of users. A wider question is whether something that relies partly on the geeky art of self-building (though it is very easy to do) will prevent it getting a massive popular base. Also ownership of buildings in virtual worlds that have a real life equivalent is beset with problems about IP rights and "brand degradation". Do you have any rights to a building or shop in a virtual world that has the same co-ordinates as your own in the real world?
They will know more when they go into public beta-testing later this year. I have no idea if there is a serious flaw within it or whether someone else in a bedroom in California is doing something similar. But what I saw worked well and I wouldn't be surprised if it was a serious success.
Update: Micazook has named its creation Project X and it's in beta.
Want to be a beta tester?
Much more about Project X by its grand panjandrum here.
August 29, 2010 at 04:01 PM | Permalink
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I'm missing something. What's the point?
Posted by: Jen | Aug 30, 2010 10:29:57 PM
The start of the Matrix.
Posted by: megan | Aug 29, 2010 5:26:04 PM
way to represent UK? Could his voice be anymore monotone? I have a bruise on my forehead I can't explain, do you think they could help with that?
Posted by: jo | Aug 29, 2010 4:17:33 PM
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