Spectrum: Interactive Media & Online Developer News

18 July 2005
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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Today's Headlines (details below)

--New Flash Authoring Software Released

--Claria Unveils Behavioral Search Platform

--Alien Skin Software Ships Eye Candy 5: Impact
--Bauhaus Introduces Tablet PC-based Animation/Storyboarding System
--Actify Tool Aids in Creation of Interactive 3D PDF Files

--Siggraph 2005 Sketches: Innovations in Computer Graphics
--Report: Worldwide Digital Set Top Box Market Review
--Report: Blog Mainstream Market Penetration Limited by Basic Usability Issues

--Interactive Fiction Goes Mobile

--iHollywood Forum Announces Mobile Entertainment Summit

--About Spectrum



New Flash Authoring Software Released

Xtivity is a new Macromedia Flash (SWF) authoring program for the Windows 98/NT/2000/ME/XP platform that lets the user work in a layout-style environment and avoid having to code or debug projects. Xtivity generates SWF files, as Flash does, but is reportedly easier on the non-developer to use and costs about half as much as Flash. Features include streaming video & audio, components, elements, content management, and direct importing of PSD files.

Xtivity provides the user with a visual workspace similar to a layout program. The user draws boxes, places content in the boxes, adds actions to the boxes and then defines what triggers the actions to start and stop. Using these four steps the publisher claims an average user can build an entire interactive Website with no experience necessary.

Xtivity is said to be capable of doing a majority of what Macromedia Flash can do, but with little to no learning curve. As Flash is a development program requiring coding skills, Xtivity promises to expand the market for interactive media and rich Internet applications to include non-developers and designers alike.

Xtivity is available at the Tivity Online Store (http://www.tivity.com/) at $399. Educational pricing and volume licensing are also available.



Claria Unveils Behavioral Search Platform

Claria, a behavioral marketing firm, last week announced the alpha release of its Vista Marketing Services search platform. Leveraging its RelevancyRank (www.relevancyrank.com) behavioral search technology, the new search platform reportedly eschews analyzing links to pages and hypertext matching, instead evaluating how consumers actually interact with search results when they are seeking information on the Web.

In January 2004, Claria began development of its RelevancyRank technology, which ranks Web pages based on consumer surfing behavior. The technology incorporates basic metrics such as click rates, as well as critical post-click metrics of consumer behavior, such as time spent viewing a site, number of pages viewed at a site, number of return visits to a destination Web site, historical interests based on Web-wide surfing habits, and conversion behavior. While in the past Claria utilized RelevancyRank technology solely to benchmark and evaluate other search engine results, this alpha release marks the first time this technology has been incorporated into a search engine platform.

"Even in this early stage of technology, this represents a clear 'step function' improvement in search methodology and relevancy," said Jeff McFadden, president and CEO of Claria Corporation. "Over time and with more users, these types of personalization technologies will allow consumers a richer, more customized online experience. For example, a college student and a business executive who are both searching for 'hotels in China' would appreciate vastly different results. Ultimately, this is the power that personalization can provide -- with technology automatically customizing information for the consumer."

In an initial study developed in conjunction with Harris Interactive, RelevancyRank search technology proved to be equal or better than Google and Yahoo! search results over 85 percent of the time in terms of both satisfaction and relevancy.

Major search players have also realized the importance of personalization technology. Google recently announced that it is publicly testing a new service that uses search histories of individuals to influence what search results they see. RelevancyRank technology goes significantly further as it could incorporate both consumers' search history and Web surfing behavior, resulting in a more relevant and customized experience.

The alpha Web site, which will be available in July, will be password protected and limited to a small test group. In addition to providing more relevant search results, the alpha version will also highlight some of the key metrics that drive Claria's top search results, including comparing the metrics of other major search engines. A public beta release is currently planned for launch in Q4 2005.




Alien Skin Software Ships Eye Candy 5: Impact

Alien Skin Software today announced the release of Eye Candy 5: Impact (Impact), a $99 set of 10 plug-in filters for Adobe Photoshop and other compatible host programs. Impact creates chrome, bevels, glass buttons, perspective shadows, and more. The third of three upgrades to Eye Candy 4000, Impact features three new filters--Backlight, Brushed Metal and Extrude--and seven reincarnated Eye Candy classics.
* Backlight projects light beam and spotlight effects from behind any selection.
* New Bevel carves and embosses, creating buttons and text with custom bevel shapes and surface textures.
* Brushed Metal simulates textured metal surfaces such as brushed aluminum and polished brass.
* New Chrome creates a reflective, embossed effect, simulating chrome, liquid metal and other shiny surfaces.
* Extrude gives 2D objects a classic 3D look, adding thickness and perspective.
* New Glass renders a colorful, gel layer over selections and makes translucent buttons.
* Gradient Glow creates soft glows or hard outlines around any selection, including single-color effects and complex gradients.
* Motion Trail creates the illusion of rapid movement, even in a curved line.
* Perspective Shadow renders drop, perspective and cast shadows.
* Super Star generates a variety of shapes, including stars, flowers and gears.

Impact uses familiar keyboard shortcuts and is scriptable with Photoshop actions. Presets provide over 200 effects. An improved settings management system makes it easier to browse, share and add presets. Impact works with 16-bit and CMYK images, so color transitions are smoother, with less banding, and print documents reproduce colors more accurately. Unlimited undo and redo make experimentation painless, while context-sensitive help addresses user questions.

Impact is the third Eye Candy 5 plug-in collection. The first, Eye Candy 5: Textures, was released in 2004 and produces a variety of seamless textures such as snake and lizard skin, fur, brick, stone and wood. Eye Candy 5: Nature followed in 2004 and creates fire, smoke, rust, ice, snow and more.



Bauhaus Software Introduces Tablet PC-based Animation/Storyboarding System

New from Bauhaus Software is Mirage Nomad, a new, $2,995 tablet PC-based animation and storyboarding system for 2D artists. Based on the Motion Computing LE1600 Tablet PC, Mirage Nomad lets artists draw, paint and animate anywhere. From storyboards and pencil tests, to fully colored final animation and special effects, Mirage Nomad is a portable 2D animation studio that easily fits in a backpack.

The LE1600 weighs 3.1 pounds and featuring a Low Voltage (LV) Intel Pentium M processor running at 1.5GHz. Mirage Nomad includes 1GB upgradeable RAM, a 30GB upgradeable hard drive (shock-mounted for enhanced durability), the View Anywhere display and WiFi connectivity.

Bauhaus' Mirage software is designed for the production of 2D animation and special effects. It combines real-time paint, and animation.



Actify Tool Aids in Creation of Interactive 3D PDF Files

Actify Inc., a developer of client-server digital design communication solutions, last week announced that Universal 3D (U3D) supported PDF files -- a format created and supported by the 3D Industry Forum (3DIF) -- can be created by a "one button" operation through the SpinFire for Microsoft Office software solution. Integrated with Tracker Software product PDF-XChange, the creation of the 3D interactive PDF file is available from a button on the Office toolbar. A trial version of Tracker's PDF-XChange is embedded in SpinFire for Microsoft Office and available to all users


"The Tracker created PDF technology allows for faster and more compressed PDFs than those created by Adobe's Acrobat. Imbedding 2D and 3D files into PDF documents allows manufacturers to continue using PDF as their preferred archive format of choice while allowing them to strengthen communications abilities of their 3D models amongst knowledge workers throughout their organization and supply chain." said John Verbeeten, president and CEO of Tracker Software. "Providing information workers access to multiple 2D and 3D file formats, while giving them the ability to repurpose that 2D and 3D data to communicate and collaborate, will make the product development process more efficient, bringing products to market faster and at a lesser cost."

SpinFire for Microsoft Office allows the creation of documents in the two most common document formats: Microsoft Office and PDF. This is said to make it easier designers, manufacturers and their supply chains to communicate their 2D and 3D design data.




Siggraph 2005 Sketches: Innovations in Computer Graphics

The Siggraph 2005 Sketches program is a forum for presenting new ideas, methodologies, and applications of computer graphics and interactive techniques taking place at Siggraph 2005, the 32nd International Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques being held 31 July through 4 August 2005 in Los Angeles, California.

Sketches cover a range of topics in art, design, science, and engineering, and include academic research, industrial development, practical tools, and behind-the-scenes explanations of commercial and artistic works.

The Sketches 2005 Jury received 368 submissions from around the globe. From these submissions, the Jury selected 149 Sketches for presentation at the conference. For the first time in Siggraph history, paper authors will be presenting sketches on specific implementation details (10 total). Select Paper authors were invited to submit sketches on the techniques they presented in the papers program that otherwise may not have had a medium to be heard.

Highlights from the sketches program:

* Animating Waves on the Beaches of Madagascar (Sketches Category - Fooling Mother Nature) Mahesh Ramasubramanian, PDI/DreamWorks Summary of the wave animation system (FX-surf) and the techniques used to create and animate crashing and lapping waves for the full length feature film, "Madagascar."

* Data-Visualization Strategies for Tsunami Research (Sketches Category - Visualization) Roger Edberg, University of Alaska Fairbanks A summary of workflow improvements for animation and real-time rendering of tsunami simulation data.

* Dynamic Adaptive Shadow Maps on Graphics Hardware (Sketches Category - GPU Programming) Aaron Lefohn, John Owens, and Shubhabrata Sengupta, University of California, Davis; Joe Kniss, University of Utah; Robert Strzodka, Caesar Research Institute A novel implementation of adaptive shadow maps (ASMs) that supports interactive rendering with a moving light and viewpoint. The ASM data structure and refinement algorithm are implemented on the GPU.

* (elf) electronic-life-forms (Sketches Category - Making Graphics Real) Pascal Glissmann and Martina Hufflin, Academy of Media Arts Elfs are very simple life-approaching systems powered by solar energy. The immediate compassion for these life forms is an amazing experience even though their abilities are very limited.

* Media Mirror (Sketches Category - Twisted Perspectives) Jefferson Y. Han, New York University Media Research Lab An interactive video installation in which 200 channels of live cable television are continuously arranged to form a video-mosaic of anything directly in front of its camera.

* Real Illumination from Virtual Environments (Sketches Category - Illumination Capture and Display) Abhijeet Ghosh, Matthew Trentacoste, Helge Seetzen, and Wolfgang Heidrich, The University of British Columbia A method for actively controlling room illumination so that it is consistent with a virtual world, triggering natural adaptation processes in the human visual system.

* A Semi-Lagrangian Contouring Method for Fluid Simulation (Sketches Category - Fluid Simulation) Adam W. Bargteil, Tolga G. Goktekin, James F. O'Brien, and John A. Strain, University of California, Berkeley A semi-Lagrangian surface tracking method for use with fluid simulations. This method maintains an explicit polygonal mesh, which defines the surface, and a supplemental octree data structure.

* Spirit and Opportunity: Animating NASA's Mission to Mars (Sketches Category - Visualization) Daniel Maas, Maas Digital LLC Behind the scenes of the most realistic, dramatic visualization of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover mission.

* Visual Simulation of Wispy Smoke (Sketches Category - Effects Omelette) Christopher Batty, Frantic Films and Ben Houston, Neuralsoft For the movie "Cursed," Frantic Films needed to replicate the wispy smoke of werewolves touching silver. This sketch describes the techniques and tools developed to do it.

Siggraph 2005 Sketches opens 1 August at 10:30 am and closes 4 August at 5:30 pm. For complete details, visit http://www.siggraph.org/s2005/main.php?f=conference&p=sketches.


Report: Worldwide Digital Set Top Box Market Review

Acacia's Worldwide Digital Set Top Box Market Review & Forecast 2002-2009 is now available for purchase. The report is intended for marketers, project and product managers, and executives in the set top box manufacturing and technology arenas.

The report reviews digital set top receiver shipments from Q1 2002 through Q4 2004 including data on DVRs, HD-capable units, and devices with USB, IEEE 1394, and other connections. The data is extracted from Acacia's StatView Digital Set Top Box Database and is intended to provide a basis for the included five-year shipment forecasts (broken out by box type).



Report: Blog Mainstream Market Penetration Limited by Basic Usability Issues

Catalyst Group Design last week released the results of a usability study conducted June 29-July 1. The study, conducted with regular users of the Internet who had no, or limited, experience with blogs, revealed that the core functions, terminology and habits associated with reading a blog are largely out of reach for mainstream audiences. It's been documented that, despite the explosion of blogs and their growing influence on culture, politics, media, advertising and marketing, most people have not read or written one. Catalyst's test uncovers some of the design-related barriers for why this might be true from the perspective of reading blogs.

According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 62% of Americans still don't know what a blog is. (http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/144/report_display.asp )

Top-Line Results

A full report on Catalyst's usability research is available at: http://www.catalystgroupdesign.com/cofactors/upload/Blog_usability_report.pdf

In order to test the direction that blogs are heading, rather than where they have been historically, Catalyst probed usage and navigation of one of BusinessWeek's five new blogs, "Well Spent" (http://www.businessweek.com/the_thread/wellspent/). Catalyst judged this to be an example of a newer, "mainstream" type of media blog that keeps all the core functionality associated with the medium, but folds it into a larger, well-known and branded Website. Highlights of the study include:

Significance of the Findings

"It's no secret that everyone is wondering whether or not blogs will live up to their hype," said Nick Gould, CEO of Catalyst Group Design. "We decided to look at the question from a usability perspective: how well do people who know a lot about the Internet really understand what they are supposed to do when reading a blog?"

Catalyst's conclusions: broad comprehension is fairly far away -- and better design and terminology are essential. All those tested were optimistic about blogs following the test, with many expressing interest or enthusiasm for what had been a new experience. However, few felt that the presentation of functionality and navigation was intuitive, and many wondered why more effort had not been put into education.

Methodology Overview

Catalyst conducted usability testing on a diverse group of participants with significant Internet experience but limited-to-no familiarity with blogs and blogging. Education, income level, ethnicity and gender all varied - as did profession (people ranged from high-level Internet executives to teachers to publicists to IT professionals to recruiters).

The BusinessWeek blog was selected after a review of the top 100 blogs as ranked by Technorati (http://www.technorati.com/pop/blogs/) as well as a variety of other Web logs. Ultimately, Catalyst chose "Well Spent" for both its content and its basic user-interface (UI) design. In terms of content, it contains a type of information -- personal finance posts -- that are relevant to almost any American adult. In terms of UI, it combines standard mainstream Web navigation to various BusinessWeek sections with core blog features including:

-- RSS subscription mechanisms (XML buttons)
-- Main page with both full and truncated postings
-- Landing pages with full postings and comment mechanisms
-- Previously posted comments
-- Recent posts
-- Trackback capabilities and recent trackbacks
-- Archives
-- Recent comment logs
-- Author photos
-- Author contact information




Interactive Fiction Goes Mobile

Before there was Doom or Grand Theft Auto, there was a computer adventure game called Zork. Released by Infocom in 1980 to huge success, it had no motion-captured action figures or fully rendered 3D environments. In fact, it had no graphics at all; it was simply text. These text-adventure games became known as interactive fiction (IF), drawing record numbers of readers and pushing sales figures for Infocom into the millions.

Die-hard fans compared Zork to reading Tolkien's Lord of the Rings for the first time, with a twist. You could be transported to a mystical world and caught up in a powerful and addictive story with one key difference: you were the main character and you controlled the story.

Now, 25 years after Zork first appeared, one entrepreneur is using today's technology to reinvent the unique genre of interactive fiction. An original Zork fan, Howard Sherman founded Malinche Entertainment in 2002 with the goal of introducing interactive fiction to a new generation of fans.

Sherman's first three interactive fiction titles have sold more than 100,000 copies and he anticipates that sales of his latest horror fiction title, The First Mile (Malinche Entertainment, July 2005, $9.95-$29.95), will exceed all three previous titles because it is available for download by anyone with an iPod. Readers can also access Malinche titles with a personal computer, laptop, PocketPC or PalmOS handheld, and selected cell phone models.

"Infocom delivered the very best interactive fiction possible back in its heyday and Malinche Entertainment is continuing that tradition in ways we couldn't have imagined," said Marc Blank, co-creator of Zork and former vice president of Infocom. "Modern implementor Howard Sherman has performed an almost magical feat in bringing interactive fiction to people of the 21st century and made it more captivating than ever thanks to his relentless devotion."

One thing that hasn't changed is the game interface. Readers are still faced with a computer screen, a winking cursor and their imagination. There aren't many games like that today, which are mostly simulations of real-life situations or gory bloodfests requiring mastery of a mouse.

"Whether today's graphics-based games are more entertaining is really debatable," argued Sherman. "Like any good book, interactive fiction unfolds before you in a compelling narrative with plot twists and turns. Instead of being passively entertained by a traditional print novel, the reader is literally inside the story where their problem-solving and logic skills are constantly challenged."

Interactive fiction has gained increasing media attention in 2005. The IF version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy won a BAFTA in March 2005 for Best Online Entertainment. Malinche titles are available for purchase on Amazon.com and Yahoo! Shopping. Visit http://www.malinche.net/ to learn more.



iHollywood Forum Announces Mobile Entertainment Summit

iHollywood Forum, Inc. announced the lineup last week for its 8th Mobile Entertainment Summit (www.ihollywoodforum.com), focusing on wireless technologies and content for the U.S., European and Asian mobile entertainment marketplaces. Mobile Entertainment Summit takes place on Monday, September 26, at the Nob Hill Masonic Center, 1111 California Street in San Francisco, 9am - 8pm.

The summit attracts over 1,000 attendees, and providing keynotes, panels and case studies. Keynote speakers include Graeme Ferguson, director of global content development, Vodafone, and Lucy Hood, president, Fox Mobile Entertainment and senior vice president, content and marketing for news corporation. Wireless carriers, entertainment companies, handset makers, developers and other attendees will consider the future of mobile entertainment in keynotes, panels, case studies and exclusive networking sessions.

Panels include: Music Unwired; Mobile Venture Capital and M&A; Next-Generation Games: from 3D to Multi-player; Mobile DRM and Security; Picture Mail, Mobile Video and Multimedia; The Great Publishers' Challenge: Making a Hit; Creating Mobile Communities; What's Next in Wireless Content; Mobile Search; Building the U.S. Messaging Market; Sports Franchises Make a Wireless Play; Mobile Marketing: Magic or Menace; and Market Segmentation: Keys to Success.




About Spectrum

Spectrum is an independent news service published every Monday for the interactive media professional community by Motion Blur Media. Spectrum covers the tools and technologies used to create interactive multimedia applications and infrastructure for business, education, and entertainment; and the interactive media industry scene. We love to receive interactive media/online-development tools and end product for review.

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