ExitReality is the latest virtual world to come onto the scene and is launching out of private beta tonight. Its big bold feature is the capability to turn any site you're on into its own 3D world with interactive elements created from content found on the page. This includes photos, videos, and music files.
The service requires a small system plug-in that currently runs only on PCs. I was told no Mac version is planned, but may come into the picture if there's enough of a demand. Once the plug-in is installed, you just need to click a button in your browser and it will take you to the 3D version of that site. The tool will automatically scan any page you're on and make a "default" world where bits and pieces of content are pulled together and organized within a giant room. Site creators can put together their own creations, complete with a developer toolbox that lets people create some Second Life-esq environments using open-source 3D modeling standards.
In a demo earlier this month co-founder and CTO Danny Stefanic walked me through something that looked like the Ewok village from Star Wars. Unfortunately Webware.com did not look as lush, although my byline has never been bigger. Stefanic says site owners can put together their own worlds that would become destinations, or companions to their existing sites, and offer yet another place to monetize their content.
To that end, the entire Exit Reality platform is tied to two important things: a social and ad network. Users can have their own Exit Reality specific profiles that come with them from site to site, and there's a built-in directory and search tool used to browse some of the best creations. The advertising side is a little more vanilla, with contextual ads that layer on top of your site's content. There are also special branded 3D elements such as a Carl's Jr. moving bull which was shown off to me in reference to a 2-year-old TV advertisement, which can be found when visiting the Carl's Jr. site in Exit Reality.
Ultimately my only beef with Exit Reality's approach is that it's not offering a whole lot more than something like Me.dium when it comes to the social side of browsing. Me.dium doesn't try to re-think what site creators have come up with and makes the discovery process no different from the experience everyone else on the Web is having. Exit Reality seems to be focused on the 3D attraction, which is certainly not a bad thing, but the experience you get coming to a default version of a site is just not up to snuff with the handful places that have been meticulously created to be immersive. It's a classic chicken and egg problem, with users bound to get bored of it unless there are plenty of interesting places to visit.
Another problem is that the 3D virtual world space is getting crowded fast. Last week at the TechCrunch50 conference we saw the launch of Hangout.net which looks a little more visually impressive and includes things like VoIP chat and a really neat physics engine that lets you throw things around with some level of realism. There's also the Home service coming to Playstation 3 owners in the next few months, alongside the other myriad online choices like Doppelganger, Kaneva, and There.com which also partially compete with gaming heavyweights like Second Life and World of Warcraft.
The one thing that's really going to keep people coming back is something different, be it the people there or the available activities once you're on a site. Whether the open-source creation tools (which I think are one of the strong points) are enough to make that happen is anyone's guess.