Throughout the prototype development, design decisions were influenced by feedback and inputs from user testing. Participants initially tried out the prototype and shared feedback on the first experience and impression they received and lead to a more constructive conversation by explaining to them my design objectives and ideas.
We interact in space
When we go to a bar as a group, we usually interact with couple of friends at a single time and the topic of discussion changes depending on who we are sharing the conversation with. Simultaneously, we sort of have a good understanding of where our other friends are in the bar. I wanted to experiment how we might bring this atmosphere into the virtual/digital world.
All relationships are different and unique
Today, human interactions through digital platforms are two-dimensional and is oriented on delivering quantifiable and textualizable information quickly and accurately from one end to another. In many of our social networks, our friends are organized in an alphabetical order that doesn’t mean anything at all. We try to add filters to categorize, differentiate and group our friends but they don't seem to deliver enough meaningful depth that means anything to us at a personal level. However, in a physical world, interactions, relationship and connections with others are made through qualitative and subjective information like impressions, personality, traits and vibes that are hard to put into words.
There have been several iterations of platforms that has tried to make interactions more personal and meaningful by engaging users to personalize and customize digital spaces as well as allowing users to juxtapose him/herself with a virtual avatar.
Cyworld was a South Korean social network platform that launched in 1999 with the idea of creating a world between people. This platform allowed users to develop close relationships and online communities by creating personal pages called ‘Minihomepy’, ‘mini home page’ by utilizing and personalizing avatars and virtual spaces. Cyworld offered various digital goods for users to purchase avatars, clothing, furniture, music and so on to decorate their mini-rooms that represented the users house. Cyworld was a pioneer in making profit through sales of digital and virtual goods but soon stopped service 11 years later in 2010.
Cyworld allowed users to be expressive and develop close and personal relationships online. For users to interact and connect on Cyworld, they were required to become ‘Ilchon’ which refers to a very close familial relationship in the Korean language and culture. When added as ‘Ilchon’, Ilchons could visit and view each other’s minihomepy which essentially is a cyber home that also allowed users to purchase digital goods to dress their avatars, decorate their page and furnish their cyber home that represented him/herself.
Technological: Digital and Internet Boom
In the late 1990’s, the Korean government and companies made large investments into the digital technologies and industries; this has lead to a rapid growth and adoption of digital technologies by the public. Personal computers began entering the mass consumer market and digital/internet technologies became easily accessible to mass public.
Economical: IMF and Economic Crisis
After the Korean economy was severely damaged by the Asian economic crisis in the late 1990’s, consumers lost purchase power and made it difficult for people to purchase, consume, afford and even socialize with friends and family outside of homes; this influenced people to spend more time and interact with friends online. Through Cyworld, consumers purchased digital items at a low cost that they couldn’t afford in the real world.
Environmental: Digital Goods, Currency and Interface
Cyworld provided various methods to personalize and customize ‘Minihomepy’ by offering various digital contents that users could purchase using it's own currency, Dotori to reduce purchase barrier and decorate their cyber home through avatars, clothes, items, furniture, music, banners and so on. By providing these services through a interface that didn't require users to learn programming languages, Cyworld successfully lowered the barrier for consumers to express in the digital world.
Political: Future National Business
After the Asian economic crisis, the Korean economy started recovering in 1999, the Korean government and companies started making large investments into the digital and IT/communication technologies. This allowed the digital/internet industry to flourish and create an advantageous environment for Cyworld to grow their business.
Failure: Inability to Adapt and Innovate
As Facebook began its service in Korea in 2009, it’s simpler and functional design appealed to the consumers and Cyworld started to lose its users. Instead of responding to the changing market, Cyworld continued its method of business and as smartphones were introduced to the market and became a key communication device, Cyworld failed to innovate and lost its competitiveness, users and market share.
Failure: Lack of International Outreach
After a success in the domestic market, Cyworld started reaching out to neighboring markets. In 2005, Cyworld began its service in China, Japan, Vietnam and subsequently in the US and European markets. However local competitors were strong and Cyworld lost out to Mixi in Japan, Facebook and MySpace in the US and StudiVZ and Skyrock in Europe; failed to expand its market.
Failure: Damaged Brand
In July 2011, Cyworld was hacked and 35 million user’s personal information, resident registration number, phone number and email address were stolen and compromised by an address in China. The company insisted that the information was encrypted but information-sensitive Koreans doubted their statement. Soon the company was flooded with lawsuits and the company’s value plunged.
Facebook Spaces Beta
In 2017, Facebook announced the beta launch of Facebook Spaces, a virtual reality version of Facebook where users are represented and visualized with avatars in the virtual reality and interact with friends through Oculus VR goggles. Facebook Space presents fascinating and creative potentials of future digital interaction but also raises questions that needs to be addressed and answered.
Multi-dimensional Digital Interaction
This function will allow friends to connect and share digital physical interactions in a singular and identical space regardless of where the individuals are physically located. This provides potentials of 3 dimensional and physical interaction in a digital space. However, running and sharing a virtual reality requires a large amount of space, data and power which are obstacles that need to be addressed.
Physical Expansion into Digital World
Users can customize their avatars to resembles him/herself in virtual reality and interact with other users/avatars. This is an initial step to expanding our physical world into the digital; like in the movie Matrix. Currently, avatars are visualized in comical characters which might hinder creating personal or realistic human/emotional connections in the virtual space.
Multiple users can share and interact in singular virtual space using different systems like Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Galaxy Gear. This diminishes the barriers and restrictions to wide range of VR contents that different systems have. Standardizing and integrating different systems into a platform will allow increase in adoption and access to VR contents.