Dive into theBlu, a giant ocean simulation

The first effort from Wemo invites 3D artists to create--and sell--wide varieties of underwater species, while users can explore and collect fish at their leisure.

A screen shot from theBlu, a new virtual simulation of the ocean. Artists and explorers alike are expected to flock to the new environment. Wemo

Coming to a Web browser near you--a giant user-generated simulation of the world's oceans.

Known as theBlu, the huge collaborative project is the first effort from Wemo, a startup built by a series of Hollywood veterans including Academy Award-winning animator Andy Jones, as well as MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito . The idea? To let 3D artists design and model many of the creatures of the deep, and to invite everyday users to explore and learn about the digital sea, and to collect--and buy--the artists' creations. TheBlu launched Tuesday.

Ultimately, Venice, Calif.-based Wemo intends to use its "Maker Media" platform as the basis for a wide variety of environments. But the company decided on the ocean as the launch project. As a result, thousands of people will soon be spending time following, and searching for, a wide variety of fish species, while those with 3D modeling skills will be vying for the attention of users and their money.

According to Wemo founder and CEO Neville Spiteri, theBlu is "a global mission to create the ocean on the Web as an interactive online world where every species and habitat is a unique [piece of] content created by digital artists" and subsequently tagged and, hopefully, collected by users. Essentially, Wemo wants to crowdsource the development of a massive digital underwater universe, Spiteri told CNET, much as Wikipedia tackled the spread of information.

There's little doubt that theBlu can only succeed if it generates a critical mass of users. And that will only happen if there's a corresponding amount of content created by the participating artists. But the seed-funded 10-person Wemo hopes to make that happen by allowing anyone who can design 3D models to take part. Artists will vie to design the most popular species in hopes of convincing normal users to buy their work.

But the more species populate the oceans, the more there will be for users to do, and the more time they'll spend in the digital deep.

Spiteri said that one benefit to users is that every piece of content comes with a corresponding piece of educational data. That means that the more a user explores, the more he or she can learn.

But theBlu is also meant to engage users through social game mechanics. As a result, users are challenged to dive into the oceans and search for specific species. The more new species they spot--and tag--the more sets they complete. And for each set they finish, they get to choose one fish to add to their collection. The other way to collect fish is to buy them. Some will choose to buy more fish, Spiteri said, in order to accelerate their progress.

In the early going, theBlu is featuring a group of standard ocean environments--a European coral reef, an African coral garden, Australian open water, Asian sandy bottoms, and American undersea cliffs. But as time passes, additional areas could be added that present things like prehistoric views of the ocean.

There's also a social element. If a user sends a fish they've bought or collected into another area, others can connect with them and initiate a conversation. This is a way, Spiteri said, for people to make new acquaintances without any real social obligation.

As it stands, theBlu provides a beautiful but limited experience. The content that's already been created for it tends to be colorful and interesting to look at, but there's not very much of it. So Wemo is counting on artists flocking to theBlu and adding more material. If that happens, Wemo foresees its platform being used by all kinds of educational institutions: museums, universities, and others.

For now, though, it's all about the beauty and simplicity of our oceans, and the ability to witness wondrous events from the safety of your browser. But don't be surprised if you start getting Facebook alerts about humpback whale migrations in your area, or perhaps giant schools of jellyfish turning up when there's a full moon. If that happens, get ready to get wet. Digitally, that is.

 

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