~~~Various blogs and sites--including that of “Botgirl”--are already commenting on the announcement of the impending opening of “United Nations Citizens," which, we are told, will be “a virtual living environment for consumers and businesses...”
A screenshot from UNC--palm trees and an Apple store. Why would a shopping Utopia necessarily require palm trees? Is it some visual metaphor suggesting that this new world will be evocative of some consumeresque Garden of Eden? Or are palm trees just easier to make than other trees? The buildings certainly look fucking uninspired.
The following announcement came out just yesterday:
NEW YORK, NY. — Jan. 13, 2010 — Making use of the core graphics engine used in the smash hit AVATAR, Cisco Systems and Equifax have partnered with Heads & Tails TV, Faithful Friends TV & Montage Systems, to create United Nations Citizens, a virtual living environment for consumers and businesses, unveiled today at the 99th Annual National Retailers Federation Expo in New York.
United Nations Citizens is a collaboration of numerous international partners that have invested millions of dollars into technologies that provide e-tailers with a unique virtual world. Featuring lifelike avatars for both stores and consumers, United Nations Citizens enables online commissioned sales assistants and paid greeters to become faithful friends helping consumers with questions and purchases.
“We’ve created the world’s first virtual workplace where real people can actually hold down good paying jobs,” said Anthony Loiacono, CEO at Heads & Tails TV. “We’ve created a whole new way of putting people to work, selling the products and services of more than 330 name brand retailers.”
A number of next-generation features are used in United Nations Citizens, including in-world HD television screens with passion point programming and active website links; audio chat capabilities with paid greeters from in-world companies; state-of-the-art media file servers to ensure a pure HD experience; hyper-local programming opportunities, such as high school sports, festivals, fashion, game and social media networks; plus mobile and online extensions for a more robust experience.
"Advances in virtual and augmented technologies allows content to reach audiences in methods that were speculation in the prior decade. Cisco Digital Media Creative Services along with global content and innovative partners such as Heads & Tails will provide solutions that address the content demands of the new decade as showcased at the National Retail Federation show in New York City” said Dos Dosanjh, World Wide Customer Solutions Manager of Marketing with Cisco Digital Media Creative Services.
More than 330 stores already are members of United Nations Citizens through affiliate marketing agreements, including Apple iTunes, Microsoft Store, Walmart, and Sky Mall, providing customers a unique way to view products and services in a setting that replicates real-world environments. Member companies are able to scale real-life presentations, combined with data collection, personalized product placement and digital signage, through seamless delivery over the web and mobile networks. a UNITED NATIONS CITIZEN positions are open for tour guides, shop owners, commissioned sales persons, trainers, doctors, celebrities, translators and more. Additionally, social networking jobs like bartender and waitress are available with opportunities for advancement within the UNITED NATIONS CITIZEN world. And, you get paid!"
So it seems to be a virtual world based upon shopping, working simple customer service type jobs, socializing, and generally farting around going to virtual bars and entertainment venues...and maybe doing some driving around and shooting. At first blush, it seems like something that should be perfectly appealing to Barry Collins, but what about the rest of us?
You go and look at the web site for this and it’s flashy and slick, and not unattractive in a vapid sort of way--but it doesn’t tell you much. Will it be easy to master? Does it scale? Will there be cool and unusual shapes and skins? Will thousands upon thousands of happy shiny avatars be able to hold hands?
Fuck if I know. I sure couldn't tell from the insipid goddamn promotional fluff-n-puff they have up.
There are some videos, but not a lot of images. Much of what you do see is repetitive--the same bits and locales over and over (though sometimes shot from different angles). The text is lacking in detail and incredibly badly written, with typos, poor grammar, and syntax that suggests that the writer has “just got off the boat get.”
But let's talk about stuff. After all, this new world is about consumption, and the engine that drives consumption is stuff. And yes, this place will apparently have plenty of stuff. There are indications that you will be able to have all kinds of real world crap marketed to you, as well as stuff to dress up the look of your avatar and to clutter up some personal space (free space? rented space? I dunno). But will you be able to make stuff in this world? They don’t really go into that, so I suspect not. What will you be able to do in this world, and will you be able to shape those activities to your own priorities (if those priorities are aren’t chatting someone up, blowing something up, shopping and fiddle-fucking around on Facebook)?
*shrugs* I dunno. They didn't say. But wait..they did say something about Facebook didn't they?
Ah yes..the role of Facebook in this. We'll return to that in a moment.
Meanwhile, back to the thing about jobs: there's going to be an "economy" and you can apply to be employed in this world. Doing what you ask? Well, boys and girls, I invite you to read the following from their web site:
“As a UNITED NATIONS CITIZEN you need to make customers happy through lively conversation and quality online service. Do people think you are fun to talk with over the net? Do you have a gift to gab, and do you know how to keep pace with an active clientele? This will quickly become the best place to try out your talents, while getting paid.
Bartenders & Waitresses:
The folks behind the bar and the girls that service the stars of the show "The Online Avatars." The brighter you chat, the better the experience and that is not different in the virtual world. We're not asking for fancy bottle juggling or an endless supply of jokes, but a friendly demeanor, active conversation and prompt service will go a long way. That said: People, tip our good bartenders & waitresses, through paypal!
The folks that monitor the conversations, hire and fire and keep the environment special. As a Club Manager you are responsible for ideas to executive management and ensure that customer satisfaction is set at the highest possible level. As the Club Manager you make recommendations for day and night additions to the ambience of the bar. you are the team leader encourage a team spirit with the other employees. We also hope that you suggest charitable events and local sponsored fun events like games and activities to enhance the overall environment.
Shopping Centers and Malls Commissioned Sales Personnel
Malls are where "Avatars" congregate and wander through contemporary designed retail spaces. You can work at the store of your dreams from designer clothing stores to electronic and sports stores, we have it all and each location is geo-targeted to the Avatars shopping. Sales Agent: Become an sales agent at one of the many sores; iTunes to Macy's To Footlocker To AT&T and more will provide commissioned sales person opportunities inclusive. Also, virtual clothing retailers, avatar fashion accessories stores, a toy store, iTunes, the NFL (and other leagues), Footlocker, an xTreme Sports retailers and more provide sales opportunities for professionals. Sales persons will interacting in real time with their customers through their AVATARS. Avatars will utilize current on-line websites to purchase goods, but in the near future, virtual merchandise can be picked up, tried on and checked out immediately. Retailers in the future, will provide (or pay to have executed) detailed 3D models of items of merchandise. Commissions range from 1% to 2.5% of the sales price depending on the store and your ability to sell. The more you sell the more you can make. Store Greeters & online assistants: As an "AVATAR Greeter" or "assistant" you will encourage other AVATARS to come into the store to browse and buy. When you purchase you receive .25% to 1% of sales. A great stepping stone to being a full commissioned sales agent. New Store Operators: For a fraction of the cost required to open a real world store, individual retailers will be able to open stores that service one-on-one opportunities with customers, creating an image that will enhance their brand with customers from around the world.
Media and News Reporters United Nations Citizen Daily News: UNITED NATIONS CITIZENS employs reporters and publishes the “virtual news that’s fit to print.” An online news that gives targeted users the news they desire to read, listen to or view whether it is virtual news happening or local, national or world real-life news. Geo-coding and targeting will be supplied by our partner Equifax, and will allow real-time data mining from information provided by users and actual data overlays down to the zip code plus four level.
Pets, Adopting & Owning Volunteers:
UNITED NATIONS CITIZEN ANIMAL SANCTUARY A central area for adopting animals: So upon adopting a dream pet users have always wanted they become part of the UNITED NATIONS CITIZEN ANIMAL SANCTUARY. Users have the ability to alter and tweak their animal to their liking? Upon choosing the their animal, they have the ability to determine its size, coloring, its habit, intelligence level, and they can add a cool color or flair and or buy accessories for them.”
By the way...I didn’t fuck around with that copy any. That’s the way it came off the website. Is it just me, or do you kind of have some lingering doubts about the capabilities of a commercial enterprise that required an investment of millions of dollars, but they couldn’t spare 50K for some copywriting and editing services? Does that make you wonder what kind of interns and other sallow quadrupeds they had working on the coding...and you wonder..”um..will my avatar have pants?” Prok and I were kind of kicking this around on Twitter. He expressed the opinion that
“By starting with sponsors & actual entry-level jobs to players, this world could win”
And I think he’s on to something there about the potential strengths of this concept. But when I responded about my lack of confidence born of their poor writing, grammar and typos in the text, he agreed and suggested that perhaps one of the jobs they should be hiring for, rather than waiters, should be “copywriter.”
I know...yeah yeah, I can’t produce a typo-free post to save my frakkin’ life. But hey, I’m just churning out this piffle for shits and giggles. This crappy blog ain’t part of a serious mega-marketing project that cost a blue billion pazoozahs to create.
So yeah, the web site for UNC not only didn’t answer the questions I wanted answered, it didn’t exactly fill me with confidence. To be honest...the quality and nature of the text and the site itself made me feel like this had been rushed. It feels like someone higher up the food chain said, "hey you guys, we got to get this turkey off the ground for this big retail convention thing! Make it SO!"
Now I may be wrong about the whole thing. Prok is probably on the mark with the thought that there is some serious potential here for this to be relatively successful with its entry level jobs and sponsors, and IF, as is likely, it is designed for a mass audience to readily comprehend, access and navigate in a manner that is not unlike losing yer footin’ on the proverbial log. And, oh yes, on top of everything else, UNC apparently will be set up so that while you are in this world, you will be able to access all your favorite social media bits and bobs as well. That should appeal to the masses, right?
But does it interest me? Shit... I don't know...probably not. Maybe for about 15 minutes just to see what it’s like. But mostly it sounds like a virtual hell on earth. I already have been a resident of a simple-to-master, structured, “no-you-can’t build-any-of-your-own-shit-here” virtual world when I did The Sims Online for a while (and even there we developed and introduced our own arts venues and activities into that game--things that the sapsuckers at EA never imagined as an aspect of the game). So, it is also possible that people will utilize this UNC virtual world as a place to exercise their own imaginations by just working around or within the limitations of the technology and the Babbitt-like thinking of the people who have made this brave new world.
If they do, I suspect what will happen is that the real value of this thing will be as an incubator to introduce a new broader audience to virtual worlds, get them used to the basic idea of living and working and playing in virtual space using avatars...and then they will feel the same hunger that carried us from TSO to Second Life. They will want to be able to do more, to make things, to interact with what they create...and this big shopping mall world will serve a springboard to propel them to something more challenging.
We’ll just have to see what it’s like when you can actually get into this thing. As Botgirl and others noted, right now, apparently all you can sign up for is to work there. And when you do, you’ll find that one of the requirements to get employment is having a Facebook account.
Hmmm. Interesting. And something that will turn a lot of people off.
So I wonder what is going on there with that nonsense?
But seriously...I know I'm being snotty. I haven't even had the chance to venture into this world, and already I'm giving off negative vibes. But to tell you the truth, I am really kind of looking forward to actually giving it a go and seeing what it's got under the hood, if only to satisfy my curiosity about all the questions that the promotional stuff didn't answer.
Hmmm...that is...unless...maybe I can't access this because I have a Mac? Again, I don't know...did anyone see anything about system requirements anywhere in any of the promotional material...or anything about when this would actually launch?