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Twinity offers new forms of customer interaction

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5th Feb 2009
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A new virtual world based on real cities is offering customers a unique way to interact with brands. But is it just another gimmick or a lucrative avenue in the world of customer experience?

By Chris Middleton

Virtual worlds offer customers and businesses new ways of interracting online, creating innovative brand extensions and sales channels for companies, and giving customers new forms of brand experience - that's the view of Dr Mirko Caspar, co-founder and CMO of Metaversum, the Berlin-based company behind the development of virtual online environment Twinity.

Unlike the superficially similar Second Life, which many brands and organisations already have a presence in, Twinity aims to model real-world cities as virtual locations that customers can 'walk around' in avatar form. Its first virtual city, Berlin, is online. More cities, including London, are planned.

"If you want to share experiences and communicate online in the most human, emotional and direct form possible in any medium, then you have the advantage of a virtual world."

Mirko Caspar, co-founder and CMO, Metaversum

The company was founded in 2006 by Caspar and Jochen Hummel, CEO. "We believe the next major trend on the internet will be shared experiences with real people," says Caspar.

The company believes that modelling real locations is better for business than the 'fantasy kingdom' approach of Second Life. It may attract customers who are unable to visit a real city, but who may still wish to learn more about it and perhaps buy products or services from local businesses.

Caspar explains that enterprises of all sizes and private individuals can purchase pixel-based real estate in these virtual cities and open stores and offices there, which customers can visit online.

Potential for cyber squatters

As such, there appear to be both advantages and disadvantages of the Twinity approach for businesses and their customers. For example, a business might be tempted to open virtual versions on their existing real-world premises – such as a model of a real-world retail premises on a major shopping street.

For Metaversum, this could be a promising business model, with virtual stores working as retail centres in their own right, and also drawing custom to their real-world counterparts. A subtly different model to standard ecommerce and etailing.

Conversely, however, there appears to be a risk that any business could occupy prime virtual real estate and set up shop there, regardless of who owns that location in the real world - a new form of cyber-squatting, perhaps.

Caspar says that virtual property speculation and subletting are anticipated on the platform.

"The advantages of a 2D internet application are deep search tools and efficient browsing. However, they only offer solitary experiences and when it comes to communication," he adds. "If you want to share experiences and communicate online in the most human, emotional and direct form possible in any medium, then you have the advantage of a virtual world."

A rosier economy?

Twinity has a virtual economy, together with tools that enable commercial partners to open up virtual extensions of their real-life businesses, including VoIP communications.

"Companies that target the end consumer can interact with their consumers in a new dimension."

Mirko Caspar

This means it can serve as a sales channel that allows online shopping to be revitalised as a more social experience.

"In essence, Twinity is for everyone who wants to communicate, be entertained, have fun or run a business," says Caspar.

"Twinity’s connection to the real world with a real community and trusted environment makes it an attractive platform for business. Companies that target the end consumer can interact with their consumers in a new dimension."
 

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