Australian software developer MultiEmedia.com has launched an e-commerce creation tool that allows businesses to develop their own 3D shopping environments.
Using virtual reality markup language (VRML), a MultiEmedia subsidiary named e-Estate.net is offering Internet software for the creation of virtual 3D showrooms in simulated cities, streets and shop-fronts on the Web.
The technology was developed by Simon MacKay, executive director of e-Estate.net, who has spent the last four years researching online consumer behaviour and preparing an environment where users are invited to do some Web window shopping. The product, named 3D Zone, was demonstrated at CeBIT this week and is currently available for trial on the Internet. Customers can either build the 3D e-commerce store themselves or request e-Estate.net's developers to custom build it.
Initially the product will be sold over the Internet. Potential customers can build a 3D e-commerce site online, and if they want to launch it they pay a fee to download the necessary software that runs the e-commerce shop. "This way people get a feel for the product beforehand," said MacKay.
The product will eventually be offered through a variety of major portals and other Internet companies, before a shrink-wrapped software version hits wholesalers and office retailers.
The software is based on Java, meaning the user can experience the 3D shopping worlds without having to download any additional software. But for a highly interactive experience with additional functions, users can download a VRML engine, or what MacKay considers "a 3D version of HTML".
MacKay's vision is something halfway between Sim City and Amazon.com, with his development team attempting to create not just entire online shopping malls but entire online cities to hold them.
"We offer the ability to shop in a street where like-minded businesses are offering similar products," he said. "So if you were shopping for fashion items, we have created a street dedicated to those outlets - like an online Chapel Street or Oxford Street."
Only time, and the availability of sufficient processing power and Internet bandwidth, will tell whether MacKay's four years of hard work can reinvent e-commerce or merely create a lot of empty Web real estate.
"At the moment the Web is a big pile of colour brochures," he said. "This way you can create a showroom in a street in a city for shoppers to browse."