Will Web3D change shopping and socialising?

A host of new companies scramble for 'Web3D'

3D on the web conjures up images of virtual worlds where people escape from reality by assuming a fantasy identity. But "Web3D" is poised to change not only how users interact with the web, but how businesses interact with consumers and with each other.

A host of new companies are scrambling to cash in on this rapidly growing market by offering online 3D shopping, socialising, and even browsing itself. The question is: will these new 3D applications catch on? Many Web3D companies are establishing a presence by building off existing Web 2.0 companies. One example is SceneCaster which allows Facebook users to create their own online three dimensional space, using an intuitive drag-and-drop interface. "We want to do for 3D what YouTube did for video," says Mark Zohar, SceneCaster founder. By allowing users to fill their 3D spaces with objects that link to real-world products, SceneCaster provides businesses with an immersive, interactive environment to showcase their products. With lead generation fees from these links, revenue sharing, and fees paid by companies, SceneCaster hopes to be cash flow positive by the end of 2009. The company was initially funded by its parent company, View22, and is currently raising additional private equity to expand to additional social networks like MySpace and hi5. SceneCaster is one of many companies hoping to capitalise on user-generated 3D content. ExitRealityallows users to view any web page in 3D, enhance their own websites with 3D decorations, or create new virtual worlds from scratch. Users can also create avatars with ExitReality, and meet-up online to explore these new 3D environments. The company started with private funding,and CEO Dean Jones predicts advertising revenues will help them become profitable shortly after an upcoming open beta release. Jones is most excited by novel applications users are devising for the ExitReality platform, including a company in China interested in building on online virtual shopping centre. The lure of online commerce convinced 3D Internet to develop a novel 3D online consumer shopping application. 3D Internet has been in the business of building custom-order virtual worlds for nearly nine years, such as training simulations for utility companies in North America and many Fortune 500 companies in the oil and gas industry. The company decided to expand into online retail because "the web is taking over marketing". says Allan Doubinin, president. Although Doubinin could not disclose specific details of the new shopping application, which will be released in the next three to nine months,he believes it will change how people shop online. 3D online commerce isn't limited to consumer shopping. Imaginestics established a niche with VizSeek (originally launched as 3D-Seek), a service that allows clients to visually search for products in 3D based on shape, and VizSpace, an online industrial networking community powered by VizSeek. Initially funded with state and federal grants, VizSeek saw rapid growth and quickly became profitable by charging a subscription fee to industrials users, including many companies in the defence industry. VizSeek is currently raising additional private funding in order to reach out to consumers, according to Nainesh Rathod, VizSeek's chief software strategist. SpaceTime is applying 3D technology to the act of browsing. In SpaceTime, each browser window becomes a separate object in 3D space, making complicated searches involving multiple windows much easier to manage.Internally funded at first, SpaceTime has raised additional venture capital to launch an updated version, SpaceTime Revolution, within the next year. By adding advertising to the new release, CEO Eddie Bakhash expects SpaceTime to quickly become profitable. An April Forrester Research report touts that Web3D has clear advantages over existing technologies for search, product visualisation, and social networking and if merged into a seamless, integrated web experience could transform the web in the next five to seven years. In the Web3D world, the report states,people will be represented visually by avatars that communicate with others and interact with objects and information - making the digital world seem more like the real world. "Workers will use Web3D to teach and learn, innovate collaboratively, communicate and network, interact with and present information, and manage real-world systems," writes Forrester analyst Erica Driver. While Driver believes it will take "substantial technology development" for Web3D to become reality, proponents like SpaceTime are undaunted. "End user adoption is the number one issue," said SpaceTime's Bakhash, "but if you deliver a superior experience, the problem will take care of itself."

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