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Culture

Welcome To The Virtual House of Culture

Living in India, the US or Asia may be a problem for those interested in Deutsche Welle's World Music Night in Bonn. However, as a member of DW-WORLD's virtual community, anyone, anywhere can listen and watch - live.

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Enter the third dimension - for the Deutsche Welle's first virtual live concert

Feel like going out this weekend, but too tired to go? Bored with what's on? Interested in music, but nothing to listen to this weekend? For all these cases, the Deutsche Welle has a solution: This Sunday, users in countries all over the world can listen and watch to this year's World Music Night, or Weltmusiknacht on Bonn's Museum Square - the Deutsche Welle will be showing it at their new virtual culture venue, DW-3D, which will be launched on the same day.

DW-3D is a special web site, set up for the project (http://www.dw3d.de). Here, Deutsche Welle has created a three-dimensional world which integrates both the multimedia cultural programs from DW-RADIO and DW-TV, as well as the possibility to play games, to take part in quizzes, to communicate in chat-rooms and look at virtual exhibitions.

Enter the virtual house?

The "virtual house" on the DW-3D web site, for which you need a special plug-in (downloadable from the website) is modelled on a real building in Berlin.

On entering, participants can choose, and adopt a 'virtual persona', or so-called avatar. The figures up for choice range from spiky-haired to elegantly dressed women, and men in spacey jumpsuits. Once logged into the DW-3D community and having chosen a virtual representative, users can stroll through the interactive house, and partake in various activities.

And they won't be on their own.

For the big night on Sunday, numerous avatars are expected to gather in the houses' fourth room, the concert hall, to watch a live-stream of the Weltmusiknacht, or World Music Night.

Meanwhile, in the house's entrance hall, the so-called lapidarium, its multimedia lounge and arts gallery users can wave and chat to other avatars, and discuss the World Music Night in DW-3D's chatroom.

The same social protocols

But mind your manners, even in the virtual world, says Professor Wolfgang Prinz from the Insitute of Applied Information Technology at the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft in St. Augustin (FIT). Surprised to have found out that "a lot of the 'social protocols' from the real world are still valid in the virtual realm," he recalls how colleagues of his had tried it once.

"While two avatars were talking to each other in the virtual world, another avatar forced its way between them. You just wouldn't do that in the real world, people would be quite annoyed with you. And in the 3D world, that's actually quite similar".

Mixing the virtual with reality

While 3D communities such as DW-3D are still state-of-the-art, Prinz and his colleagues are already developing products for the next generation of users.

The latest trend is blending the virtual and the real in what is known as "augmented reality", where users, for example, wear special glasses which offer additional information.

"For example, you walk through Cologne and look at the city's dome. And then you can say, show me what the dome looked like a hundred years ago. And then a virtual image will appear that overlaps with the real image you are seeing," explains Prinz.

Virtual Reality: Walk the virtual dog

From a technical point of view, attempts to create a virtual reality (VR) on a computer screen have thus come a long way since the first MUDs (Multi User Dungeons) and MOOs (object-oriented MUDs) were developed in the late 1970s.

What started out primarily as real-time, text-based chat forums for computer games or special interest groups, such as research communities, has since turned into colorful three-dimensional worlds in which you can live in "cyberhood" , a life completely different from your own.

Cybertown.com is one of the most fully developed virtual communities on the web. It has even charted its own constitution, calling for the "harmonious interchange of ideas and information between community members."

In addition, Cybertown citizens use personalized avatars which build their own 3D homes or go for walks with their virtual dog.

When virtual friends cause real tears

However, virtual worlds such as Cybertown can appear so real that especially younger users often have difficulties distinguishing between the real and the virtual world, according to Jamana El Husseini, net reporter at Giga, a joint German TV and Internet program. She is quite alarmed by some of the feedback she regularly gets from their young audience.

"Some make acquaintances in the virtual realm, and they can't distinguish them from their real friends anymore. And then they become disappointed when they don't hear from each other. [The virtual realm] does become a reality for a lot of the younger users," Jamana told DW-WORLD.

Deutsche Welle's DW-3D site, however, is not trying to create a 'parallel world' comparable to Cybertown but rather to offer a special service for those interested in German culture. After the concerts there will be regular programs, such as chats with luminaries, quizzes, and a so-called "Kaffeestunde" (coffee break), a weekly chat in German.

While most people associate a rich Black Forest Gateau with a cozy German coffee break, users will have to wait until Sunday to see just what kind of treats the Deutsche Welle's DW-3D has to offer.

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