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Sun Unveils Corporate ‘Second Life’

Posted by SIM on May 1, 2007

3D tool aims to improve enterprise collaboration
Tom Sanders
30 Apr 2007

Sun Microsystems has developed a prototype 3D environment that essentially mimics Second Life, but turns it into an enterprise collaboration tool.

Sun’s MPK20 virtual world allows for collaboration between employees in different locations.

Each employee is represented by an avatar that walks around in a virtual environment, communicating using internet telephony.

Plans for future updates include the ability to share applications in the virtual environment, and to link whiteboards in physical meeting rooms with the virtual space to show up in both online and offline worlds.

The application at first glance has some similarities to Second Life. But Nicole Yankelovich, a principal investigator with Sun Labs, argued that it only overlaps in the social element. “This brings the social element of Second Life into the workplace,” she said.

Current collaboration tools do not enable this degree of informal interaction, Yankelovich argued, thereby preventing remote workers from building relationships with their colleagues.

Users of MPK20 can walk up to each other and start a conversation, just like they can before a meeting in the real world. They can also walk up to two conversing avatars and join the conversation or just listen.

The name MPK20 identifies the virtual world as the 20th building at Sun’s corporate campus in Menlo Park, California. The campus has 19 physical buildings.

Sun demonstrated a first version of the virtual world last Thursday at an open day at its Sun Labs research arm.

MPK20 uses Sun’s Project Darkstar, a marketing initiative that bundles servers and software to allow companies to build a scalable infrastructure for 3D environments.

The project also uses Sun’s Project Wonderland, which provides developer tools for building 3D worlds.

MPK20 has some similarities with Project Looking Glass, an open source initiative which aims to develop a 3D desktop for computers.

Sun suggested that future 3D environments could function as the actual desktop, where users launch applications by walking their avatar to a special room or area.

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Gaia Online

Posted by SIM on April 21, 2007

Move over MySpace, Gaia Online is here
Written by Wagner James Au
Sunday, April 22, 2007

By the middle of last year, it was attracting half a million unique visitors monthly; fast forward to last month, and that number is two million. It’s not a traditional MMO like World of Warcraft; it’s not a social game like There; it doesn’t originate from Europe like Habbo Hotel or from Asia like Cyworld. You haven’t heard of it partly because the San Jose company has kept a low profile.

Another reason you’re still likely in the dark: it’s primarily designed for teens. But with online worlds all sizes and styles poised for an explosion, you’ll almost certainly hear a lot more about it soon.

It’s called Gaia Online, and as a guy on a giant crane behind us tore down the giant Web 2.0 conference banner in Moscone West, I had a chance to sit down with CEO Craig Sherman— formerly COO with Myfamily.com, and an Entrepreneur-in-Residence with Benchmark Capital, a main funder of Gaia— for a furious round of questioning. How did Gaia grow so large so quickly so stealthily?

“The world’s fastest growing online world hangout for teens.”

That’s the way Sherman and his team prefer to characterize Gaia, the brainchild of Studio XD, a comic art firm which gave the site its anime-influenced look. Gaia’s online world aspect (which launches in a separate Java-powered window) is a series of virtual towns where Gaian avatars can socialize (up to 100 in a single space), with apartments they can own, and treasures they can find. (No combat, however.) It’s just that 10% of total user activity takes place in the world itself.

Gaia’s Many Experience Channels

The world is just a conduit to the larger activity on Gaia, says Sherman: in addition, there are website arenas where users can upload and rate each other’s artwork and other content (7-10% total activity), or play multiplayer Flash mini-games with group chat (10-15% total activity.) The largest cohort of activity (wholly 30%) takes place in the Gaia forums, and here’s where the truly staggering numbers come in: Averaging a million posts a day and a billion posts so far, Gaia’s message boards (with topics running the gamut from pop culture to politics) is second only to Yahoo in popularity.

Gold for Activity

A unique innovation is the way the company distributes its virtual gold currency: instead of selling it for real money (as with There) or allowing its trade on the open market (as with Second Life), Gaians are automatically given gold for participation: You get gold for posting on the Forums, for riding events, for uploading content, for exploring the world. Subscribers are rewarded for engaging in Gaia, in other words— and the reward incents them to engage in Gaia even more.

Gold for Auction

With the gold, Gaia subscribers can buy items, clothing, and accessories for their avatars, some sold by the company, but most of it sold via Gaian-to-Gaian auction. (They estimate some 52,000 auctions are completed every day.)

What pays in Gaia, however, stays in Gaia: the company strongly discourages real money trading, and works with Ebay to curtail it. That’s not to say Gaian treasures haven’t been sold online. “One item sold for $6000,” says Sherman. “Wonderful to tell you, but bad for what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Gold— for Gaia Interactive, Inc.

Instead of monthly subscriptions, Gaia Online sells “rare items”— treasures, fantastically cool fashion accessories for player avatars, and so on— two offered a month for $2.50 each. Subscribers buy them via credit card, Pay Pay, cellphone—or cash on the barrel. (“We employ someone full time whose job is getting dollars and quarters” out of envelopes kids send them, Sherman notes.)

… but first, a world for our sponsors

The company’s other revenue source are ad campaigns created to run within the world of Gaia. Before launching these, Sherman says, they solicited subscriber feedback, to find out which potential advertisers they wanted to see in the world— and which they didn’t. (Cool fashion brands got the majority nod; big American auto companies, however, didn’t.)

Staffers work with advertisers to create, not passive billboards, but an extended immersive experience. Gaia’s campaign for New Line Cinema’s fantasy adventure The Last Mimzy, for example, challenged their users to accomplish a series of tasks in order to get their own special Gaian-only Mimzy (a super-intelligent bunny). Hundreds of thousands of these Mimzyies were given out—meaning some 10-20% of their total user base jumped through the hoops to win the advertiser’s prize. (By contrast, when Nissan began giving away virtual versions of their cars in Second Life, far less than 1% of Residents took them up on the offer.)

The Secret to Gaia’s Success

Craig Sherman has been thinking what the value-proposition of his site in the era of MySpace or Facebook. “In a world where teens are constantly branding and packaging themselves” on sites like those, he points out, “Gaia is where you get away from it all.”

Whether that remains the case when the competition reaches full roil remains to be seen, but for now, the Gaia seems destined to keep growing.

The Gaia Numbers: Demographics and Usage Patterns as of April 2007

300,000 log in daily, according to the company; average unique visit is two hours a day.

Average concurrency: 64,000 users. Maximum: 86,738.

85% of users are based in the US

10% are English-speaking but non-US (with 5% a nebulous Other)

Breakdown by gender: 55% Girls – 45% Boys

About 20% of subscribers put up their real life photo in their avatar profile.

Number of Gaia gold “millionaires”, as of last week: 1385

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VirtualThirst.com

Posted by SIM on April 17, 2007

Coke Opens VirtualThirst.com In Second Life
by Tobi Elkin
Tuesday, Apr 17, 2007

DIVING INTO THE VIRTUAL WATERS, Coca-Cola officially entered Second Life, issuing an invitation to avatars as well as the general public to submit ideas for a portable virtual vending machine.

The design competition invites people to submit designs to http://www.virtualthirst.com for a chance to win a grand prize of building and launching the ultimate vending machine with the help of 3-D design shop Millions of Us.

Design entries will be accepted through a variety of formats and submission methods, including submissions within Second Life, YouTube and MySpace.

Submission guidelines for each and contest rules appear on MySpace at http://www.myspace.com/virtualthirst, as well as on “crayonville Island” in Second Life. The entry deadline is May 25.

Coke’s initiation into Second Life was spearheaded by marketing consultancy crayon, which devised the strategy for the soft drink marketer and helped it tap an advisory council made up of Second Life residents and designers which will select the winner of the competition.

The grand-prize winner will get to introduce the virtual vending machine at an in-world party; residents will also be able to buy the machine. The Virtual Thirst contest represents Coke’s first big experiment within Second Life.

“Our goal is to enable individual creativity in pursuit of a ‘vending’ machine that can exist only in your wildest imagination,” said Michael Donnelly, director, global interactive marketing, Coke.

Donnelly said the “Virtual Thirst” platform has a lot of legs–and is something that could be extended into offline media, as well as into portable media-games, wireless and other emerging platforms.

The concept could eventually tie in to or complement Coke’s current campaign “The Coke Side of Life.” He said the Second Life play is a learning experience.

“It isn’t any kind of reach play, it’s about learning about how to better market.” And he also noted that since the relaunch of Coke.com, the brand is striving to reposition itself around self-expression and creativity.

Coke isn’t the only brand dabbling in Second Life. Boutique agency Campfire established an ongoing presence and sophisticated set of experiences more than a year ago for GM’s Pontiac brand.

Campfire came up with Pontiac’s Motorati Island, where there are participating dealers, auto enthusiast groups, live sponsored concerts, racing events and more. The tie-in with SL was designed to promote the Solstice GXP sports car. Recently, Campfire teamed with Pontiac and Leo Burnett to offer a real-world Motorati experience at the New York Auto Show; big screens at the Show offered an in-world glimpse in real-time.

At Coke, Donnelly noted that the winning design could lead to futuristic concepts of what the brand’s real-world machines will look like: “That is part of our strategy. How do we take our old world vending machines and make them relevant to our customers?”

Joe Jaffe, president, crayon, said Coke’s approach in SL is understated. Coke held a press conference in-world to announce the competition on Monday. “It’s just one event in-world–25 people attended, but it’s a seed,” Jaffe said. “Our advice was to start small and then build conversation around the small idea. That’s the long tail of creativity.”

Jaffe continued: “This is less about a Second Life project and more about being able to take the whole concept of thirst and position it as a thirst for meaning, knowledge, love, self-expression and a thirst for an experience.”

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Second Seattle

Posted by SIM on March 16, 2007

Real-life Move For Second Life
Creator Opening Office In Seattle
By ANDREA JAMES
March 16, 2007

Linden Lab, the creator of Second Life, is opening an office in Seattle and hopes to grab some of the area’s abundant technology talent. Yes, it will be a real office — not a virtual one.

San Francisco-based Linden Lab also plans to open offices in Boston and in Brighton, England. The Seattle office initially will employ up to 10 people, with expansions planned.

“We’re thrilled to announce our regional expansion into cities such as Seattle,” Catherine Smith, Linden Lab’s director of marketing, said via e-mail. “It has always been our goal as a company to decentralize, both physically and with regard to our computing platform. Seattle is home to a rich, creative community of developers and thinkers, and we’re looking forward (to) establishing a presence in the area.”

Second Life is an increasingly popular virtual world with millions of users who lead alter-ego lives online. The digital people, called avatars, are powered and paid for by flesh-and-blood people with spare cash and time.

People from more than 100 countries are creating the evolving world, building virtual homes and businesses, trading virtual stocks, dancing at virtual nightclubs and forming virtual relationships.

There are even virtual terrorists who shoot virtual bullets and detonate virtual bombs. Some real news outlets send correspondents into the virtual world to report on what happens there.

Though the company was created in 1999, and Second Life went commercial in June 2003, it has seen a giant boost in popularity in the past six months.

As of 6 p.m. Friday, Second Life had 4.7 million residents, a third of which had logged in during the past two months. In the past 24 hours, users had spent $1.64 million in real money on virtual stuff.

It costs $9.95 to join, but most people spend more than that to buy land and other products.

With all the growth, Linden Lab wants to expand past its current 30 employees. The company already has a tie to Seattle — Philip Rosedale, the former chief technology officer at Seattle-based RealNetworks, founded Linden Lab.

Alexander Castro, chief executive and founder of Pluggd, was excited to see Linden Lab move in two floors above his startup in the Buttnick Building in Pioneer Square. “We’re obviously fans of their stuff, too,” he said.

Castro wouldn’t reveal his Second Life identity, but did say that he’d bought a Second Life car and some “really nice clothes.”

“If I gave out my Second Life name, it’d really be like I only have one life,” he said.

“It’s like the ultimate people watching.”

But, perhaps the best part is the freedom to be whatever one fancies.

“I’m a lot thinner in second life than in first life,” Castro said. “That’s one of my favorite aspects.”

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Former Tetris/Square Heads Form Avatar Reality

Posted by SIM on March 12, 2007

By Brandon Boyer
March 12, 2007

Former heads of The Tetris Company and Square USA have announced the formation of upstart studio Honolulu-based Avatar Reality, Inc, as well as the company’s first title, the massively multiplayer Terraformed Mars.

The company will be headed by Henk Rogers, founder of Blue Planet Software, Blue Lava, and The Tetris Company, famous as the man credited with bringing Tetris to Nintendo for release on its then-launching GameBoy.

Joining Rogers is Kazuyuki Hashimoto, former vice president of technology at Electronic Arts and chief technical officer of Square, where he oversaw CG development of such titles as Final Fantasy VII and the Final Fantasy film.

Also serving as members of Avatar Reality’s board are Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov, and former Nintendo of America president Minoru Arakawa.

For its first title, Avatar Reality has announced Terraformed Mars an “online massively multiplayer virtual world,” which the company promises will feature “stunning graphics, realistic characters and endless social bonding opportunities.”

The company announced last week at the Game Developers Conference that it would become the first licensee of Crytek’s middleware engine CryENGINE 2 for use on Terraformed Mars.

Said Avatar Reality ‘mastermind’ Henk Rogers, “Our goal is to create an online virtual world that will feature the highest-level of fun, imagination, romanticism and creative freedom.”

He added, “A highly talented team of celebrated game and movie developers has come together to share their knowledge in creating an online world that will quickly become ‘the’ place to meet your friends.”

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Sony to Launch Virtual Universe

Posted by SIM on March 7, 2007

By RACHEL KONRAD
7 March 2007

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Capitalizing on the popularity of social networks and online worlds, Sony will launch its own virtual universe and another 3-D game built almost entirely by players. “Home” is a real-time, networked world for the PlayStation 3 in which players create human-looking characters called avatars. They can buy clothing, furniture and videos to play on a virtual flat-screen television in their virtual apartments.

The concept is strikingly similar to Linden Lab’s “Second Life,” a Web-based phenomenon with nearly 4.5 million residents. But Sony’s world will feature heavy doses of video games for avatars to play, as well as virtual arcades, music, movies and other Sony-approved media downloads.

Sony will launch a beta version in April and officially debut in the fall as a free download on the PlayStation online store.

Sony’s second virtual world for PlayStation users is called “LittleBigPlanet” and allows players to build obstacle courses, puzzles and other games for avatars that resemble beanbags – characters Sony dubs “sack boys.”

The game, which requires a combination of cooperation and competition, will debut early next year. A sample version will be available in the fall.

Sony Computer Entertainment America has not released pricing for “LittleBigPlanet.” Executives would not discuss how much virtual T-shirts, sofas, televisions or media downloads would cost in “Home.”

The games are part of a companywide push that Tokyo-based Sony calls “Game 3.0.” Executives who introduced the games Wednesday at the Game Developer Conference in San Francisco called it an evolution in the video game industry, which began in the 1970s with disconnected consoles and “static” games.

“We’re putting power back into the hands of users – the players themselves,” said Phil Harrison, president of worldwide studios for Sony Computer Entertainment.

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Sony’s Home

Posted by SIM on March 7, 2007

Sony Fires 3-D Salvo at Its Rivals
By Chris Nuttall in San Francisco
March 8 2007 00:09

Sony on Wednesday sought to leapfrog the online achievements of its game console rivals Microsoft and Nintendo with the announcement of Home, a virtual world that will run on its PlayStation 3.

Sony, which dominated the previous generation, has been a poor third to date in sales of next-generation consoles and has lagged Microsoft and Nintendo in developing online services.

Microsoft announced on Tuesday that its Xbox Live service had reached the target of 6m subscribers four months ahead of schedule.

Nintendo has introduced a range of services for its Wii console, including a shop, Mii avatars, and news and weather channels.

Sony’s efforts for its PS3 have been focused until now on a simple online store. But at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco on Wednesday, it unveiled its new 3-D world.

Home looked similar in concept to the Second Life virtual world that has garnered much attention, but its graphics were stunning, aided by the PS3’s superior processing power.

Sony has always maintained that the higher specifications of its console would ultimately give it an edge over its rivals as it encouraged the creation of richer applications for it. Home appeared to be the first evidence of this.

Phil Harrison, head of Sony Computer Entertainment’s Worldwide Studios, demonstrated how users could easily design 3-D characters, furnish an apartment and wander around the environment talking to friends’ avatars, using voice or text chats.

They could visit a games lounge and play pool on a 3-D table, visit a bowling alley or play arcade machines. A virtual cinema would allow them to watch movies with friends.

In their apartments frames on the walls and flat-panel TVs would show users’ own photographs and videos.

Mr Harrison said a large-scale “beta” testing phase of Home would begin next month ahead of a full launch in the autumn.

The service will be a free download. Sony expects to make money by selling premium items of virtual furniture and upscale apartments, as well as music and video content.

Gamers reacted positively to the announcement. But some said they would prefer to buy and use content by means of a standard interface such as Xbox Live’s rather than through avatars and virtual worlds.

Sony also announced that it was making available key tools for the PS3 to help developers build better games. It demonstrated a new game called Little­BigPlanet, which allows gamers to design their own games within it.

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Gamer Rewards

Posted by SIM on March 6, 2007

Say What? Soon, We’ll See ‘Frequent Gamer Rewards’
CNET News
March 6, 2007

On Tuesday, a theater in the Regal Cinemas multiplex in New York City’s Union Square filled up with advertisers, brand marketers, new-media types, and interested bystanders for the PSFK Conference, a series of lectures and panels organized by New York- and London-based trendspotting blog network PSFK. One of the speakers was David Rosenberg, director of emerging media for Manhattan advertising firm JWT, who was speaking on the subject of the cultural shift caused by video games and online role-playing virtual worlds.

Rosenberg stressed that he believes we are seeing a whole new set of economies with online games like World of Warcraft and Second Life–despite the fact that auction giant eBay recently placed a ban on virtual goods.

He posed a rhetorical question to the audience: “How long is it going to be before credit card companies start giving out frequent gamer rewards instead of frequent flyer rewards?”

It’s an interesting thought. I wonder how many Warcraft players would jack up their American Express spending if it meant they could earn themselves some cool new enchanted swords?

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Second Lawyers

Posted by SIM on March 6, 2007

Internet Gaming Site ‘Second Life’ Has Become Opportunity for Litigators, According to Lawyers USA;
Lawyers USA Launches New Feature by Examining the Intersection of Real and Virtual Worlds
PR Newswire US
March 6, 2007 Tuesday 10:10 AM GMT

Lawyers USA recently launched its new “Internet Lawyer ” feature by exploring how the wildly popular Second Life website has become a land of opportunity for litigators – both real and virtual. The article may be found at

“Our goal with the ‘Internet Lawyer’ feature is to keep our audience informed of the most recent developments in this increasingly complex subject area, and to examine some innovative new ways in which lawyers are not only practicing law, but also how the next generation of attorneys will ultimately be promoting themselves,” explains Associate Publisher/Editor Susan Bocamazo.

For the uninitiated, “Second Life” is a vast and constantly expanding virtual 3D world that is attracting a huge and growing number of participants. Every day, hundreds of thousands of people sit before their computers and enter Second Life in the form of “avatars,” or virtual beings, whom they create when they join.

Using keyboard and screen commands, Second Lifers navigate their avatars through an amazingly lifelike world. Avatars can walk and run, but they also possess the superhuman abilities to fly and instantly teleport to any spot in the enormous Second Life world. They also interact with other avatars, engaging in conversations that are typed by the real people sitting at their computers who form relationships, build actual communities of like-minded souls, and now conduct business transactions – all of which have created a perfect niche for legal counsel.

Lawyers USA staff writer, Dick Dahl, traveled to Second Life to “meet” with several virtual attorneys and plans to continue to report from cyberspace while Lawyers USA establishes the first legal news publication on Second Life.

The “Internet Lawyer” is published once a month in the print edition of Lawyers USA. Upcoming features include:

— Online mock juries
— Audio discovery
— Virtual law firms (NOTE: These are with real people – not avatar-based in Second Life)
— MySpace litigation
— Open Source and Web 2.0 software
— New products from the Las Vegas Consumer Electronic Show

About Lawyers USA

Lawyers USA provides comprehensive coverage of Supreme Court Decisions, national and state legislation, litigation trends and practice management information via a bi-weekly print publication, daily/weekly e-alerts, and complete news archives at .

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Philips, Intel To Team On Patient Data Device

Posted by SIM on March 3, 2007

From Herald news services
Sunday, March 4, 2007

Royal Philips Electronics NV and Intel Corp. plan to launch a wireless, handheld device to assist doctors and nurses in recording and storing patient information.

Philips, one of the world’s largest makers of medical equipment, said the device, including a touch screen and digital camera, had numerous uses. Among them: “to reduce medication errors, positively identify staff and patients, fill out charts, capture vital signs, write up reports and validate blood transfusions, as well as (provide) the ability to closely monitor the healing of wounds.”

Medical professionals would use the devices to relay data to and from a patient’s file on the spot. Perhaps most importantly, it will be “medical grade compliant,” said Philips spokesman Ian Race. “It’s easy to sterilize because it is sealed.” That’s key because in many wards, sanitation rules put many doctors’ personal digital assistants off limits.

Localized snapshots coming to the Weather Channel:

Something seems to be missing from online weather maps.

They show major highways and town names. But have you ever seen one get detailed enough to show neighborhoods and street names and, by extension, truly localized weather?

The Weather Channel is unveiling a product Monday that could change that.

The Atlanta-based cable channel has partnered with Microsoft Corp. to offer detailed road maps combined with satellite imagery. The result is an interactive Web map that lets users zoom in to get a localized snapshot of current weather. That is, to see how it’s affecting their neighborhood – not just the city as a whole.

The interactive map can be found on the channel’s online site,www.weather.com. It has a sliding bar that controls the view of the weather, along with tools that let users pan around the map.

“Earl Grey, hot, bot”:

Japan is pretty serious about robotics. If the droids are going to fit in, they probably need to learn the Japanese custom of serving tea.

Fortunately, researchers at the University of Tokyo are exploring just that. In a demonstration this week, a humanoid with camera eyes made by Kawada Industries Inc. poured tea from a bottle into a cup. Then another robot on wheels delivered the cup of tea in an experimental room that has sensors embedded in the floor and sofa as well as cameras on the ceiling, to simulate life with robot technology.

“A human being may be faster, but you’d have to say ‘Thank you,'” said University of Tokyo professor Tomomasa Sato. “That’s the best part about a robot. You don’t have to feel bad about asking it to do things.”

“Second Life” brings on the noise:

The virtual 3-D world of “Second Life” has always been a place where people could gather and communicate – but only by silently typing notes to each other. In attempt to add more realism, “Second Life” is about to get a whole lot noisier.

Linden Lab, the company behind “Second Life,” says it is implementing voice-over-Internet software that will let the thousands of people online at any given moment talk to each other over their computers’ microphones and speakers.

One key feature will be something called spatial audio. To mimic sound in the physical world, the ability to talk and hear conversations will be contingent on the separation between people in the virtual environment, said Joe Miller, a technology executive for Linden Lab. A group close together will be able to chat normally, but once a certain distance is reached, not even shouting will be enough, Miller said.

Add Ning to the social networking list:

Web browser pioneer Marc Andreessen helped bring the Internet to the masses during the 1990s. Now the Netscape Communications co-founder is trying to help Web surfers build online communities outside the walls of leaders MySpace.com and Facebook.com.

Andreessen’s vehicle this time around is Ning Inc., a Palo Alto-based startup that he began in 2005 with former banker Gina Bianchini.

After months of fine-tuning, Ning is finally ready to make its big push with a free toolkit designed to make it easy to launch a social network with a few mouse clicks. Ning’s package includes all the social networking staples – videos, photos, music, forums, personal profiles and blogs.

Although both MySpace and Facebook have become smash hits by offering the same features, Andreessen is convinced people dislike the big social networks’ one-size-fits-all approach. With Ning’s products, even technology neophytes can customize social networks around narrowly shared interests, such as a sports team, church group, hobby or TV show.

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