Build a Mini-'Second Life' on Facebook

Looking to spice up a Facebook profile? Try Vivaty Scenes, which lets users construct virtual worlds where they and their friends can hang out.

Facebook plays host to roughly 17,000 applications already, but this week it's become the playground for new virtual worlds thanks to Vivaty.

The startup March 31 began testing Vivaty Scenes, a browser-based widget users can download to construct their own three-dimensional virtual environment on their Facebook profile pages and invite friends to participate.

Users can choose from a series of templates, including different indoor and outdoor environments such as a rooftop garden, a backyard scene, a warehouse recording studio or a beachfront cabana. The application also lets users pick furniture, add Facebook photos to virtual walls and air YouTube videos on the televisions in the virtual worlds.

Vivaty Scenes automatically lets users leverage their Facebook buddy lists so they can chat with their friends in a common browser. Users can also post notes and pictures, which show up in the Facebook Mini-Feed; from there, friends can click on the notification to go to the 3-D scene and see them.

By default, only friends may access virtual scenes, but members can open scenes up to the public on Facebook. Users interested in trying Vivaty Scenes may download a 3MB plug-in here to get started.

Such capabilities stand in contrast to the venerable virtual reality network "Second Life," which does not afford such boundaries and requires users to install a 100MB program.

"It's really the ability for the user to have their own virtual environment that they can customize and personalize with content that's relevant to them, not relevant to some publisher somewhere," Vivaty co-founder, President and CEO Keith McCurdy told eWEEK April 2.

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Gartner analyst Adam Sarner said Vivaty Scenes is a good way for users to sample short-term virtual world experiences from a highly viral network like Facebook. He said he expects vendors that sell goods to allow their customers to build mini-worlds like Vivaty.

"The fact that you can evoke a world as needed is another form of self-expression," Sarner told eWEEK. "The fact that it's Web-based is good because we all hate downloading stuff." One criticism from Sarner: The graphics, which he said resemble "Second Life," are a little weak, he said.

Vivaty is starting on Facebook but expects to expand to MySpace and other social networks and even blogs and branded sites. Vivaty began with Facebook because of the social network's more than 68 million users, McCurdy said.

Vivaty Scenes, like the bulk of new Web apps, is free and is likely to remain that way for awhile.

McCurdy declined to discuss how exactly Vivaty would make money, but a source familiar with the company's plans said the company will likely create some ad-based revenue model in addition to charging companies that want to brand their own virtual worlds to sell goods.

McCurdy also declined to say what social networks or blogs Vivaty's technology would appear on next, but said, "We plan to be everywhere."

What will be interesting to see is if Vivaty apps make their way into the enterprise world. IBM and Linden Lab April 3 unveiled a joint effort to host "Second Life" on IBM's servers in an effort to facilitate enterprise adoption of 3-D worlds in the workplace.

Should social sites like Facebook command the proper measure of trust, businesses may eventually permit their employees to utilize collaboration apps such as Vivaty Scenes to improve workflow.