VastPark ‘vs’ Second Life: is it really a contest?

vastpark Serge Soudoplatoff is a French entrepreneur and VastPark investor I had the opportunity of spending a morning with on his recent Australian visit. He has written an interesting piece comparing Second Life and VastPark from an IT architecture viewpoint. There’s not a lot to disagree with, but I do wonder whether VastPark is going to gain the momentum it needs to ensure its arguably superior architecture gets the widespread adoption it may deserve.

It’s an increasingly aging comparison, but it’s like the VHS vs Beta days – in the end it comes down to popularity and in that respect, VastPark currently isn’t in the game when compared to Second Life. The test for the underdog is to secure that first big win in market share – it’s a strategy I have no doubt is being explored by VastPark in parallel with the very methodical approach to development displayed over recent years. Not that it should be a linear competition: it’s the ability for any company to offer a highly interoperable platform that’s likely to have ongoing success.

Additionally, I don’t believe VastPark see themselves in the ‘keeper of the world’ role that Linden Lab occupies. In that respect, Metaplace is probably a better comparison, with the end-user purchasing a world and using the supplied tools and plugins to create. Second Life certainly has content creation at its core, but Linden Lab also run the ‘government’ and economy, with the myriad of ramifications that has. VastPark will no doubt have it’s own terms of service, but I’d be surprised if they don’t have a different focus than Linden Lab’s.

Without wanting to sound like a fence-sitter, both VastPark and Second Life have incredible things to offer. Hopefully both will provide key components for an ever-improving virtual worlds experience. The only certainty is that neither will do it on their own.

VastPark: community collaboration for enterprise

vastpark-3C-logo VastPark have announced the launch of VastPark 3C (Community Collaboration Centre), which “connects an easy-to-use social network platform with an immersive real time meeting system, allowing users to self organise within a collaborative environment.”

It’s another noteworthy integrated virtual worlds / social media entry into the enterprise market – like its competitors however, VastPark still faces an uphill battle with businesses that already have well developed intranet platforms.

That said, Victoria’s Department of Justice and RMIT University are on board with three other undisclosed organisations, so there’s a small userbase established. Growing that base will obviously be a priority for VastPark, and to date they’ve demonstrated a real commitment to working with government and business over what’s been a very lengthy development phase for the VastPark platform.

If you’re an organisation and interested in joining the closed beta of VastPark 3C, here’s where to go.

Realising a virtual worlds industry in Australia

Christian Salles, Olivier Lamirault, Serge Soudoplatoff, Jean Michel Billaut and Franck Bellido are five impressive individuals. All from France, they have played various roles in France’s technology sector (their full bios follow at the end of this post) and they intrinisically understand virtual worlds. One (Franck Bellido) developed his company’s Second Life island presence.


Educational Consultant Lindy McKeown provides a tour for the visiting French group in Second Life

Over the past week these five have been on a mission to see how Australia utilises virtual worlds and it’s been quite a tour. They’ve spoken with key people at VastPark, NICTA, AFTRS, SLCN, ExitReality, Skoolaborate,CLI and Smart Services CRC to name a few.

In the few hours I spent with the team from France, I was struck by their passion for the subject and their obvious respect for the work being done in Australia with virtual worlds. It was also a stark reminder of Australia’s lack of broadband infrastructure when seeing their reaction to our broadband speeds, which makes achievements to date locally even more impressive in a lot of ways.

Sometimes it takes a collaborative occasion like this to really bring home the fact that Australia well and truly has a virtual worlds industry – one that attracts interest worldwide.

A big thanks to Mandy Salomon at Smart Services CRC for the invite to take part.

The bios:

Christian Salles career in applied research spans 35 years working in France, Norway, Taiwan and Frankfurt with the banking conglomerate BNP Paribas. Mr Salles pioneered intranet technologies in 1996, overseeing 200 installations including that of Reuters. More recently, Christian created his own consulting firm, Back End Office and is a professor at Paris’ Dauphine University.

Jean Michel Billaut consults on technology and innovation at the highest level of government and industry. His career with the Euro bank BNP Paribus has included Senior Economist and ‘VP in charge of Communication’. He is currently their advisor on the Internet. Jean Michel has chaired the ‘Centre d’information et d’etudes sur le credit’, a research organisation on credit, savings and financial problems and since its foundation in 1993, chairs ‘Club de l’Arche’, a multi-disciplinary thinktank to exchange information and thoughts on the introduction of new information technologies and the communication in society. In 1983, Mr Billaut launched Atelier, the first financial telematics service in France, and is chief editor of ‘Journal de l’Atelier, a review on technologies and marketing for professional organisations. Jean Michel was amongst the first to implement BBS systems and launched one of the first websites in France, ‘Web de l’Atelier’ (1994). In 1998, he created Canal Atelier, France’s first video streaming channel. As advisor to the provincial city of Pau, Jean Michel oversaw the introduction of innovative internet services underpinned by an optical/wifi network of 100 megabits for 30USD /month. Between 1998 and 2002, Jean Michel chaired the ‘Digital Towns Association’ and is currently lobbying for a ‘new deal’ in Europe: to build a fibre optic infrastructure end-to-end all over Europe. Jean Michel has written widely on the net economy and holds degrees in economic science (PHD) and informatics. He was awarded the distinction ‘Chevalier de la Legion d’honneur’, by President Chirac for the promotion of the Internet in France.

Serge Soudoplatoff is the president and co-founder of Almatropie, an association devoted to the promotion of innovative Internet usage. As such, he continues a distinguished career on the leading edge of high technology. He has recently founded Commonbox, a company devoted to simplify money pooling, and make it more cooperative. He is a co-founder of the multi-national provider of pricing, rating & charging solutions, Highdeal. Prior to that, he was Director of Innovation for France Telecom, driving the telco giant’s work group defining Internet policy and action plans. As such, he launched projects on mobility and the Internet, corporate IP telephony, and the services and new economic models needed in the Internet age. Before joining France Telecom, Serge managed the innovation research centre in Paris for Cap Gemini. He also did research on speech and pattern recognition at IBM research labs in Yorktown Heights, NY, and spent several years as a university professor. He began his career as a geographical engineer for the French national geographical institute, doing image recognition and satellite positioning. Mr. Soudoplatoff is a former secretary-general of the French professional group, CP2i, comprising research organizations with the joint aim of promoting high tech innovation. Serge teaches Internet and strategy at Hetic, the school of the Internet, and at ESCP-EAP. He has an engineering degree (PHD) from France’s equivalent to MIT, Ecole Polytechnique, and is the author of “Avec Internet, où allons-nous ?” Le Pommier, 2004. (‘Where are we going with the Internet’) The book is downloadable. In addition to speaking fluent English and French, Serge is conversant in Russian.

Olivier Lamirault
Oliver has been working on eLearning solutions since 1992. As director of Ingenium, he is devoted to the development of Ingenium and building the Ingenium team. The objective is to maintain Ingenium as a leader in the field of e‐learning. Olivier designs and realizes the pedagogical engineering of Ingenium partners. He manages projects and monitors the production to ensure the quality and the relevance of teaching resources produced. Technology and pedagogy play an important role in its activity. The remaining time is devoted to developing relations with external partners.

Franck Bellido
Franck is the Flash and 3D developer of Ingenium. He is responsible for achieving the development of complex flash animations which required coding in the language action‐script. Franck also develops elements into 3D environments for Ingenium’s video production and illustrations. Franck develops VirtuaLearn, the Company’s learning and collaborative island in Second Life.

Virtual Worlds: 2009 industry forecast

US-based Virtual Worlds Management have released their Virtual Worlds Management Industry Forecast 2009 . It features commentary from more than 60 executives across the virtual worlds industry, including Australia’s Santosh Kulkarni (NICTA), Danny Stefanic (ExitReality), Bruce Joy (VastPark), and Bob Quodling (Mycosm).


Condensing a report of this size into a few paragraphs is always fraught with difficulty, but the main messages standing out for me were:

1. There’s not surprisingly very different estimates put forward on the level of growth this year, given the current economic circumstances;

2. There’s significant confidence that advertising models are evolving that make virtual worlds competitive with social networks like Facebook, particularly given the growth in virtual goods on those platforms;

3. Web-driven worlds are seen as having the most momentum for 2009;

4. Enterprise use of virtual worlds remains unclear, with a split between those who believe the economic climate provides opportunities to demonstrate cost savings versus those who believe any IT expenditure will be under significant scrutiny.

From the Aussie contingent, one of the more amusing comments came from VastPark’s Bruce Joy:

3D on the Web will continue to be a bit disappointing, but will become far more commonplace through Unity and Flash based engines like Papervision. This suggests 2010 may be the watershed year where 3D on the Web goes mainstream. That’s when we all become rock stars and live large, right?

Mycosm’s Bob Quodling claims “Wireless mobile will be the biggest play” – is that as opposed to ‘Wired Mobile’?

Danny Stefanic from ExitReality sees much clearer ROI cases coming forward for business, whilst Santosh Kulkarni from NICTA cites the developments in interoperability between worlds a key issue.

If you’re interested in some comprehensive thoughts from the virtual worlds industry itself, then have a read of the full report. We’d love to hear your thoughts – is the report a realistic assessment of 2009 prospects, a group of insular assertions from an industry desperate to gain mainstream relevance, or something else altogether?

Recession and virtual worlds: go real-world

Nic Mitham at Kzero has written a interesting piece on virtual worlds and the challenges they face in the current economic climate. He pays particular attention to ‘pure-play’ worlds, which are those that aren’t linked to a real-world brand.


Pure-play worlds don’t have the relative security of a more widely known brand to leverage from and Kzero’s view is that a foray into the real-world marketing space will assist in surviving the current challenges. It’s a claim that’s hard to refute given the ever-increasing competition in the space – the paying customers (mostly parents) are more likely to feel engaged with a product they’ve eyeballed beyond the computer screen. Of course, a lot of pure-play worlds are hard pushed to maintain their cash flow for development, let alone funding real-world marketing pushes with product to back it up.

In the Australian context, Mycosm, VastPark and MyCyberTwin all fall into the category of worlds with no real-world brand awareness beyond the products they’re developing. To date, Australia has escaped the worst of the worldwide economic conditions – that’s not going to continue forever and these three platforms face some nail-biting times ahead.

Read the full Kzero piece here.

AVWW Doggie Bag


A big thanks to Feldpsar Epstein for attending the real-world AVWW event last weekend. What follows are some of the highlights from her perspective. We’d also love to hear your thoughts.

The Australian Virtual Worlds Workshop, Friday 28 November and Saturday 29 November 2008, held at Swinburne University, Hawthorn Campus, was a bit of a mixed bag. I present here some of my favourite take-away notions.

Presence in Virtual Worlds

The presence afforded by virtual worlds of many flavours can put conference and class participants on a more equal footing, where each individual has access to the event in the same way, i.e. through a common virtual world. Unlike video or phone events, where some people are present physically, and others are present through a technological medium, virtual worlds create a more compelling atmosphere, since each person has an equal presence.

Investing in understanding

It makes sense for educational institutions to make use of contractors and ‘experts’, especially where that knowledge or those skills are lacking amongst the faculty. However, it’s important also that the faculty invest some time and effort into expanding their own knowledge to the point that they understand what they are asking the contractors to do. There is little point in asking for the impossible and then feeling disappointed or cheated when it cannot be done.

Students are not just consumers of education

Students at all levels need to have input into their own education. It is important that students collaborate with and mentor not just each other, but also the faculty. This kind of education goes on in the real world all the time; failure to support it in virtual environments represents diminished opportunity for students.

VastPark – vast possibilities, simplicity in action

Vast Park is a virtual worlds platform being developed in Australia. The standards are open (as in Open Source), as is the code, to a large extent, except for pieces such as the renderer; these closed-source pieces have been introduced to cut down on the amount of work needed to be put into technologies that already exist and need not be duplicated. The Immersive Media Markup Language (IMML) was conceived with this notion in mind – “A deaf person must be able to communicate with a blind person.” This means, in essence, that rich, complex environments can be described simply, and that there is a vast range of accessibility options available.

“VastPark” is the name of the technology behind the virtual worlds that other people will create.

Hedonic Consumption Behaviours

Hedonic behaviours account for approximately 51% of intentions to use virtual worlds, making enjoyment the most significant predictor of usage.

VastPark expand developer pool, SDK on the way

Vastpark’s slow but steady progress toward launch continues, with an announcement that its Developer Program has some new faces. Two of those faces include Australian-based companies: Finpa (an eLearning outfit) and The Project Factory (a virtual worlds developer).

The other entities coming on board are MindTaffy (USA), Metaversatility (USA) and ADMINO (Finland)

Vastoark’s CEO is obviously very happy with the expansion – “Given VastPark is an Australian company headquartered in Melbourne, it is great that we’ve got some wonderful Australian developers joining us”.

There’s also a call out for further involvement by developers. VastPark’s Major Projects Manager, Liz Chung: “We’re keen to work with our developers to help them achieve their digital world project goals. For anyone with a project who is either looking for recommendations to a developer or seeking to partner with us on a project, please contact us at Developer AT”.

With a software developer’s kit (SDK) on the way, there’s no arguing that the momentum is building for VastPark – it needs to in the burgeoning virtual worlds marketplace.

Disclosure: The Project Factory are a former advertiser on The Metaverse Journal.

VastPark and NICTA: Badumna beta

The title of this story would have to be one of our most obtuse, but the story behind it is hopefully a little more transparent.

VastPark is a developing virtual world platform well known to regular readers. NICTA (National ICT Australia) also has a number of years pedigree in some of the technological underpinnings of virtual worlds. In the case of the collaboration with VastPark, peer to peer (P2P) is the focus. The joint project announced this week involves the release of the beta version of an MMO P2P engine, christened Badumna (which incidentally are a genus of spiders). It’s a promising development and a further shot in the arm for VastPark.

The issue of being able to have more than 50-60 people in one area of a virtual world is one that’s received a lot of attention. Some argue that having many hundreds or thousands or avatars in one smallish space would bring a much-needed buzz to popular virtual worlds. Others argue it’ll just become a crowded mess (imagine voice capabilities in such a scenario). What partnerships like this do is ensure that we’ll actually have the option of finding out what population level works best:

According to NICTA’s P2P Project Leader Dr Santosh Kulkarni, Badumna can support millions of users with minimal infrastructure. “It provides a significant competitive advantage over traditional network engines,” he maintains. Badumna has already been successfully integrated with the platform of 3-D virtual worlds platform provider VastPark.

Of course, this claim has been made before by multiple developers – a notable Australian example being Project Outback. That said, NICTA have serious credibility in their area and VastPark have a lot more development runs on the board than Project Outback ever did (though there was a NICTA connection involved there too).

I think it’s safe to say that P2P as virtual worlds network engine has plenty of life in it yet – check out the NCITA project page for more details.

Virtual Worlds London lineup finalised

As mentioned previously, we’re a media partner for Virtual Worlds London. It’s looking like a dynamic get-together, with quite a list of speakers finalised.

Linden Lab CEO Mark Kingdon is one of the many notables. If I were attending myself, I’d love to ask some questions of Niniane Wang, Google Lively’s Engineering Lead, on how Google perceive Lively’s performance to date. Australia’s own Bruce Joy, CEO of VastPark is on the speakers list as well.

So if you’ve got a spare few thousand dollars and a couple of weeks to go to London – why not register to attend?

VastPark release Immersion player

VastPark have been a littler quiet on the news front recently but they’ve changed that today with the announcement of a virtual worlds’ player called Immersion. The player, which will be open source, will allow for VastPark-created worlds to be embedded into websites. VastPark themselves mention Google Lively as the obvious comparison.

CEO Bruce Joy’s take:

“We think that virtual worlds will start to become more utilitarian: you can create a room in minutes and decide to have a VoIP based meeting in there. This will lead to many businesses wanting to host their own micro worlds just as they host their website. We want to make that easy, low cost and provide an open source and a commercial white label software choice.”

Immersion will have scriptable “PowerPoint-style” controls and the current Browser and Viewer technology used in VastPark will be merged into Immersion.

The open-sourcing of Immersion comes on top of the VastPark server code being open source, so it’s an overt strategy by VastPark. It’s probably a necessary strategy as well given that behemoths like Google Lively are now competitors. That said, the open source route is being pursued with some protections built in for the company. Lead Developer at VastPark, Craig Presti, explains:

“VastPark is built for developers, by developers. The whole system is easily extended by developers creating plugins that can remain proprietary or be open sourced at the discretion of the developer. We’ll continue to release binaries under an entrepreneur friendly end user license. That’s much better than being essentially forced to open source your widget or your plug-in by the GNU GPL. We think there’s a middle way.”

Whether this middle way is the path to success is obviously up for grabs. What’s encouraging is that a smaller (and partially Australian-based) player is remaining in the game and not being fazed by the ever-growing competiition in the marketplace.

We’re waiting on confirmation from vastPark on Immersion’s release date.

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