Friday, October 22, 2004

Mock news website

I have completed a mock news website. You can access it at journ.ru.ac.za/2k4students/stephen/news_site. Note that only the story "Aid Head Kidnapped in Iraq" actually exists.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Click2Travel? The Internet and tourism

Check out new articles on the promises (and failures) of Internet travel services.

Read it on my website...

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

DNA, weather, products - it's all the same for WS

On 11 October it was a way to store and share genetic information - what's next in line for the endlessly-flexible technology known as Web Services? The idea is to get applications talking to each other over the internet, without having to do complicated customisation of every variety of software. Standard markup languages such as XML (extensible markup language) or SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) are designed to store all kinds of information. Once the data is in a standard format, it's easier to move around, and it suddenly gains all sorts of uses it might never have had before. One XML-pundit wants to use Web Services to find out when the weather's going bad. Already the technology is driving an online news revolution: taking "feeds" from websites to make up a customised news page (the trend is so big that it's putting a strain on bandwidth). When it comes to business, Web Services looks like the best way to get B2B integration working. The easier it is to get information around, the quicker the decision-making (or why not just automate it?).

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

African B2B: just not happening

When South African company Metropolis shut down its B2B (business-to-business electronic commerce) portals after just two years in the game, the industry had to learn some hard lessons. The model worked just fine in America: "vertical" communities of businesses could integrate their supply chains through the internet, dramatically improving efficiency and thus keeping costs low. The technology came with big promises, such as retailers being able to automate stock purchases based on real-time information rather than educated guesses. Metropolis tried to attract businesses with specialised news portals (with information about chemicals, mining, lab equipment, telecoms, etc.), but what worked in America didn't necessarily work in Africa. International market sentiment at the time certainly didn't help (the "dot-bomb" phenomenon), and Metropolis also fell prey to the scepticism South African businesses had about doing commerce online (was it really, truly, secure?). Ultimately, though, there just weren't enough people online to make it work.

Monday, October 11, 2004

"Leapfrogging" into the Information Age

When more than 800 computers were donated to South African schools in September 2004, it was Open Source software all the way. Pick 'n Pay did the donating, while the Shuttleworth Foundation did the rollout of their "tuXlabs" - a project that not only aims to get SA kids more computer-literate, but more Open Source software-literate, too. The Foundation's project manager said, "Open source software is an effective way of giving learners and educators an uninhibited path of freedom to use, copy and customise the software without the fear of infringing piracy and copyright laws". Driving efforts such as these is the Go-Opensource project, which aims to get South Africans aware of what OS is, and how it can offer low-cost alternatives to proprietary software. The movement is gaining lots of ground in a country where even the government seems keen on using OS software to make concepts such as "e-government" work. A recent White Paper enthused that "open source software is an especially useful tool to allow developing countries to leapfrog into the information age."

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Play games with reality. Seriously.

This week's news quiz on MSNBC.com lets you wonder "Who is the top U.N. official who received kickbacks from Saddam Hussein?" It's not quite as thrilling as the latest shoot-'em-up, but many ambitious "new media" prophets might call it a step in the right direction: making journalism more like computer games. One gaming academic said it like this: "In games where the seemingly only point of your playing is to ... advance a very linear plot, one may say that 'The game designer is having all the fun'." The same might be said of traditional media: the journalist is having all the fun. A new kind of journalism that takes on the "interactivity" of computer games would let the audience do the finding, the editorial decision-making, even the reporting - in short, they could have some of the fun. Exactly how far the gaming-journalism parallel goes is hotly debated, but a number of intriguing possibilities are already on the horizon. MSNBC's quizzes let the audience learn about the latest news stories in an original way (e.g. that Benon Sevan was the UN chief implicated in the corruption charges). More radical proposals include simulation games that let audiences test scenarios in real-world economic or environmental crises, a news site built like Amazon.com (complete with points system for participation) or news sites built like MMORPG's.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

MMORPG’s: The Saga of Epically-long acronyms

Sure, there are rules; sure, it comes in a box – but something like “The Saga of Ryzom” doesn't seem to quite fit into the category of "game" any more. Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games allow for hundreds of participants in dynamic, virtual worlds - either competing against each other, or co-operating - over the Internet. Add this to the tradition of Role Playing Games (RPG's) and you have not only a long acronym but a unique experience, rich with detail and almost endless in possible outcomes. In Ryzom, the "stage" is pure fantasy, but the characters in this interactive "theatre" are real people - playing elaborate, imaginary roles - who you can meet, talk to and engage with. While the idea ofMMO is not new, the beautiful 3D graphics take the immersive experience to a new level. Games like these satisfy not only the curiosity of exploring new (though imaginary) worlds, but also of living imaginary lives through characters who accumulate skills, personal history and all kinds of magical powers.

Read this story on my home page and find all kinds of interesting links on Computer Gaming, by clicking here.

Take over the world, again. And again.

In case you’ve ever harboured fantasies of actually being the Evil Genius in a 60’s spy thriller, Elixir Studio’s latest strategy game should distract you from temptations of really, truly, taking over the world. Aptly named - what else? - "Evil Genius", the game puts you in charge of one of those handy secret island fortresses from which you can plot world domination. Strategy is exactly what you need to build bases, develop super-weapons, train evil minions - and defend yourself against "obnoxious action heroes and government agents" who are constantly out to thwart your evil designs. While "Evil Genius" takes the strategy genre into the realm of hilarious parody, the appeal is still the thrill of overcoming complex problem solving challenges. While you might not actually own your own stash of WMD (Saddam probably didn't, either), strategy games continue to strike a chord with the megalomanic in all of us. The real "evil genius" is the human brain, which apparently enjoys a scenario in which it can outwit the rules of the game and achieve specific goals - like taking over the world.

Read this story on my home page and find all kinds of interesting links on Computer Gaming, by clicking here.

Sims 2 lets you play God

Simulation games go soap-opera as EA’s latest version of the “Sims” series allows you to watch over (and manipulate) the lives of simulated characters that are complete with DNA, personality traits and even memories that affect their future life decisions. For the first time, Gamezone reports, “you control your Sims [simulated human characters] over an entire lifetime”. They even pass on their personality traits to their children. The previous version was the “best-selling PC game of all time” (dstore.com) and it seems that playing God continues to be a popular pastime. Simulation games also seem to have an element of voyeurism (just look at the screenshots) and Sims 2 even allows you capture “events” in the game and record them as movies. While we might leave the French post-structuralists to muse over whether reality is all just one massive simulation, the genre certainly redefines "reality as escapism" - or is that "escapism as reality"?

Read this story on my home page and find all kinds of interesting links on Computer Gaming, by clicking here.