Virtual Berlin Relocates To Downtown San Francisco

April 6, 2009

Source: Twinity

Source: Twinity

At Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco last week, one of the exhibitors who caught my attention was Twinity – the virtual world from Berlin-based Metaversum.  On occasion of their appearance at Web 2.0, the company issued a press release with the entertaining title, “Metaversum Takes 16 Square Miles of the German Capital to San Francisco with Twinty.”  I stopped by the Twinity booth (which, interestingly, was part of a larger presence from the city of Berlin) and received a demo of Virtual Berlin from Twinity’s CMO, Mirko Caspar.

Twinity is not unlike other virtual worlds businesses – but their unique angle is in the creation of real-life representations of cities, with each block, each building, each sidewalk recreated down to a pixel by pixel level of detail.  In fact, the Twinity motto is “powered by real life”.  I find their approach to virtual worlds interesting:

  1. Real world cities – with generic virtual worlds, any given resident has only a certain likelihood of visiting the land or island you create.  What Twinity does is start with world famous cities (e.g. Berlin, London [coming soon]) – places that everyone on Earth has heard of and might want to visit (virtually).  Whether I’ve visited Berlin or not, I might like to visit its virtual represetation – to explore a new city (if I’ve never been there) or to recall spots from my past visit – and, see how the current city has changed from the last time I visited.
  2. Land scarcity – unlike a generic virtual world, where land development is only limited by the dollars invested in new land sales, Twinity’s approach is a methodical launch schedule of selected cities.  This creates a certain level of demand and pricing power (in the cities that do exist) compared to a virtual land grab where hundreds of islands are developed over the course of a few months.  I compare it to a baseball park that consistently sells out its 30,000 seats (at a premium) vs. a McStadium of 70,000 seats that may never sell out a game.

The Twinity business model is based on four pillars:

  1. Dynamic in-world advertising (via partnership with JOGO Media)
  2. Product placement and sponsorship – with sponsorship, one can host events, in-world, for instance
  3. V-commerce and E-commerce – generate sales in-world – or, generate an e-commerce transaction that occurs outside of Twinity
  4. Virtual real estate market

In addition, Twinity has a freemium model, where basic membership is free, with premium membershp benefits available at additional cost.

I asked Caspar about the potential for cybersquatting of land assets in Virtual Berlin – for instance, what if I purchased the virtual office of a Fortune 500 company, but they come in later to claim the rights to it?  Caspar responded that certain real estate is reserved by Twinity (e.g. a national musuem, a government facility, etc.).  For business-related land, however, it’s all fair game and “first come, first served” with regard to virtual land purchase.

Twinity, however, enforces certain rules in its user agreement – if Adidas purchased the virtual land of Niketown, then Adidas would not be permitted to use their logo on virtual land associated with Nike (as an example).

Twinity is currently in public beta with Virtual Berlin the first available city.  Virtual London is on tap – and, Twinity was awarded a grant from the Singapore government to build a Virtual Singapore.  Given Twinity’s recent visit to the Bay Area, one has to wonder whether San Francisco is up next.

Home Depot’s EXPO Design Centers Should Go Virtual

January 29, 2009

In a press release issued this week, Home Depot announced that it’s shuttering its doors on all 34 EXPO Design Center stores:

The EXPO business has not performed well financially and is not expected to anytime soon. Even during the recent housing boom, it was not a strong business. It has weakened significantly as the demand for big ticket design and decor projects has declined in the current economic environment. Continuing this business would divert focus and resources from the Company’s core “orange box” stores. Therefore, over the next two months, the Company will be closing 34 EXPO Design Center stores, five YardBIRDS stores, two Design Center stores and a bath remodeling business known as HD Bath, with seven locations.

But wait!  Let’s not be too quick to liquidate all the inventory and tear down the walls.  Images and footage can be captured from the existing design centers — and placed online.  With a Virtual EXPO Design Center, Home Depot can:

  1. Generate leads/business to their core orange box stores
  2. Facilitate e-commerce transactions directly within the virtual design center
  3. Bring the design center to the entire world (and not just those in the vicinity of the 34 physical stores)
  4. Differentiate from the competition

And, they can do all of this for fairly low cost – much lower than their costs for maintaining the original 34 physical design centers.  The concept here is a mashup between and Amazon.  With, prospective home buyers search for homes, view photos and take 360 degree tours.

With Amazon, shoppers of goods peruse, search and eventually purchase (online).  With a virtual design center, you facilitate both activities – prospects search for particular appliances and take 360 degree tours of model kitchens and baths.  By clicking on a particular item, the user can be provided with its full specifications (dimensions, weight, etc.) and  be taken to to purchase it immediately.

So visit the showrooms that are still standing and capture photos, videos and 360 tours.  There are many affordable solutions for capturing and rendering 360 views, such as IPIX and 360iSight.  Next, go interview some of the 5,000 employees you were planning to lay off and find the ones who are most personable and most “online savvy”.

Offer selected employees positions to remain with the company – as virtual showroom staff.  In their new role, their job is to be an embassador (online), answer questions in online chat and discussion forums (within the virtual design center) and help facilitate e-commerce or real-world sales.  To mix in some fun, outfit their avatars with the Home Depot orange apron (and yes, I know, that’s from the orange box stores – but, we’re having fun – and, it might help reinforce the brand).

To provide value to your ecosystem of partners and vendors, allow selected vendors (e.g. GE, Maytag, Kohler) to have booths within the virtual design center, which would provide a centralized collection of the vendor’s products.  Feel free to charge these vendors for their booth, so that you recoup some of your costs for building this environment.

Vendors could provide their own employees to staff the booth.  And once a week, allow a selected vendor to provide a live presentation (webinar or videocast) in the design center’s Auditorium.  Instead of driving clicks to the vendor’s web sites, allow users to click into to purchase the vendor’s products there.

Now, if you have leftover budget or time, mix in more fun into the environment – provide interactive areas where users can interact with kitchen or bath appliances.  Allow a user to turn on/off a stove; set an oven timer; open/close cabinets; fill up a jacuzzi tub with water.  Features like this increase the stickiness of the site and may keep users coming back.  I’m sure there’s much more than can be done – so whether it’s Home Depot or another retailer, I’m expecting to see this concept (virtual design center) become a reality in 2009.

Viking range?  $1,099.99.  LG refrigerator?  $799.99.  Online leads, interactivity and e-commerce?  Priceless.

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