Mingleverse creates virtual meeting spots

[From The Vancouver Sun]

Mingleverse creates virtual meeting spots

Vancouver startup company rents out rooms on the Internet for events

By Gillian Shaw, Vancouver Sun
December 5, 2009

The Vancouver Canucks are among the organizations turning to the technology of Vancouver startup Mingleverse to create virtual meeting spots where fans can wander around and chat in 3-D sound.

Up to 50 people can convene in virtual meeting spots — that could be anything from the Canucks’ dressing room to a boardroom or a soccer stadium — and interact with 3-D voice, audio and visual telecommunications as though they were meeting together in real life.

And it’s not just a place to meet and greet. Mingleverse’s ‘mingles’ allow participants to share presentations with people in the room, showing videos and sharing slide presentations and other content.

Unlike many great Web ideas, Mingleverse has a revenue plan: renting out its virtual rooms for organizations to hold events — from a sales conference to a sports team treating 50 lucky fans to a virtual meeting with their stars.

Along with sports teams, the idea has attracted the attention of Howard Donaldson, vice-president of studio operations for Disney interactive studios, who sees potential for giving kids a way to meet up with their favourite Disney characters and other possibilities in digital entertainment.

“I think it is something really unique and it represents the future of how people are going to communicate and collaborate,” said Donaldson, who is an adviser to Mingleverse. “This could have a lot of applications that could really benefit a lot of people and a lot of organizations.”

Mingleverse was launched in Ron Stevens’s living room, where he and co-founder Len Layton met to discuss the idea of bringing telepresence, an expensive undertaking mostly limited to organizations, to the consumer market.

“It was built primarily by five or six people,” said Stevens.

Stevens said the uses of Mingleverse are as varied as the creators of the mingles, ranging from church-group meetings to people coming together to discuss the explosive stories around Tiger Woods’s marital woes.

“As far as the world of digital entertainment and news services is concerned, you have to put it out there and people will find their niche,” he said. “People will find their use case for it.

“For us it is a generic way for people to get together and exchange brainpower.”

Stevens said the site has had thousands of people dropping by to attend mingles since its launch two months ago, and 2,500 to 3,000 people have signed up for the service.

Within the first six weeks of its operation, more than 10,000 mingles had been hosted at the site and Stevens said that number is close to doubling.

The service is free for mingles of up to three people; a mingle room for up to 10 people costs $9 a month, 25 people is $19 a month, a 50-person venue is $29 a month and the site promises it will have 100-person mingle rooms coming.

Mingles can be open to the public or they can be invitation-only, and hosts can choose to make them free or charge an admission. The mingle rooms also chart the carbon emissions saved by the virtual meetings that can bring together people from across town or around the planet.

The company, which is privately funded, recently received seed money from Telefilm Canada for its upcoming uVenu project for entertainment-based mingles.

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