dio gets an overhaul, but will it increase the appeal?

dio-logoUpdate, February 19th, 2014: dio was discontinued by Linden Lab on February 19th, 2014. Links to the dio website, etc., have therefore been removed from this article.

I received an e-mail on July 30th informing me that dio (remember that?) has received a major overhaul, with the upshot being, in the words of the e-mail, “dio is now focused on making it easy to turn your photos into interactive experiences to share. Just upload a picture, then tag it with interactive hotspots to add photos, text, and videos. You can even create an interactive album by linking to other images.”

The update means that some concepts previously found within the application have vanished – there are no scripted objects and no “rooms” for example. What there is instead is what might be sort-of described as “Flickr with hotspots”.

Essentially, under the new dio, you can still create places, which now comprise one of more “scenes”. Each scene is a photo (without or without a short description) into which you can embed text, other photos, videos and links to other scenes, all with considerable ease. Scenes can be stand-alone, or can be linked together to create things like photo albums or interactive tours, and so on. All this has, apparently, been done in response to requests from users.

A Quick Look

Getting started with the new dio – assuming you have an account – is easy enough. Just log-in and click on the Star Creating! button.

The new dio banner.
The new dio banner and “start” button

This leads you to a page where you create your new “scene”. Here you can enter a title, select a photo to upload to dio from your hard drive (or enter a suitable URL for an image) to form the background to the scene. Once you’re happy, save it.

The image is displayed as it will appear to others, and you can start adding elements to it. This is done by entering the Edit mode (button on the top right of the window), then clicking on the photo itself to display the hotspot options.

Creating hotspots for a dio place
Creating hotspots for a dio place

There are four types of hotspot at present:

  • Text – for unformatted text (i.e. you can arrange the text into distinct paragraphs, but they’ll all be concatenated into a single block of text on saving, so best to keep things short)
  • Other photos (with text captions if you want)
  • videos
  • links to other scenes.

To create a new hotspot, click on the required hotspot icon. This opens a window with easy-to-follow instructions. When you’re done, click Save in the window to save the hotspot on the photo. There is no limit to the number of each type of hotspot you can add to a given scene / photo, and the art of dio is, as with the previous version, having an idea of what you want to achieve and then working out how best to achieve it.

An example of a scene with lots of hotspots
An example of a scene with lots of hotspots

And that’s really it (for the present), as far as I can see.

Note that if you have previously created a place in dio, it may well have been made “Private” and viewable only to you. To enable it as “Public” again, go to any scene within the place and click the Edit button, then click the cog button which will be displayed next to it, and select Place Settings. You can then flick it back over to Public.

For those navigating your places / scenes, it is simply a matter of clicking the available hotspots in whichever photo comes up. As with the original version of dio, if someone who is logged-in to the application leaves your place at a particular scene, they’ll be returned to it the next time they access that particular place (users who are not logged-in will return to the first scene in the place.

Feedback

The overhaul gives dio a much cleaner look and feel when trying to do something with it. The concepts are very easy to grasp if you’ve used the previous version, and rebuilding previous places isn’t as onerous as I thought it would be, while putting together a new scene / place is very quick and easy (I did this in – quite literally – 2 minutes).

A noticeable absence from the revised dio is Google Adsense. Originally, the Lab has intended to “profit share” on people’s dio creations using Adsense, which was visible at the bottom of the “old” dio pages, but which is absent the new. Have LL abandoned the idea?

The hotspots idea is interesting and certainly allows a good degree of creative use of pictures. I found it very easy to re-work my Fallingwater tour on the fly (although it will need more TLC before I’m happy with it again). However, one thing I would like to see changed in the icons used for finished hotspots. When creating new hotspots, each icon is clear: a camera for adding photos, text for adding text, a video camera for videos, and a double arrow for links to other scenes. However, only the latter icon is displayed in completed scenes; text, photos and video all have the same nondescript dot which is hardly attention-grabbing.

That said, the opportunities to create fun scenes using hotspots seems pretty broad and limited only by one’s imagination. Want to share you YouTube videos in a different way? Here’s how (and yes, videos now play on being selected, no more additional faffing around); want to be silly with videos and photos? You can; and people can leave you their thoughts! Oh wait, they can on Flickr as well.

And therein lies the rub. OK, so dio has entertaining little bells to it. You can embed pictures in pictures, text in pictures and video in pictures, you can link pictures with other pictures and so on and so forth. But, the question still remains – why? As easy as the new UI is, the fact remains that if you want to share a bunch of photos with friends, it’s still easier to slap them up on Flickr or a similar site, and all the pretties be damned. As it is, dio is increasingly looking like it is trying to be far too many things, and that like Jack, it’s going to remain master of none.

The new update is nice and neat (although LL have some catch-up work to do as far as the “about dio” page is concerned – it still references the “old” beta) and it’s easy grasp. Whether it increases dio’s appeal, however, remains to be seen. I’ll be honest here and say that, given the lack of visible activity with the application prior to the arrival of the Lab’s e-mail, I had actually thought dio was DOA.

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Blocksworld launches

LL logoOn Thursday August 1st, Linden Lab launched Blocksworld, the latest in its new product line, a day later than anticipated.

Announced in a press release from the Lab, Blocksworld was originally the work of Boldai AB, a team of three programmers who jokingly refer to themselves as being, “From the country that gave you Minecraft and the country next to the country that invented Lego”. It is described as, “A perfect mix of Lego and Minecraft.” Boldai were acquired by Linden Lab at the start of the year.

The press release announcing the launch of the application for the Apple iPad states in part:

Blocksworld is a light-hearted build-and-play system for kids and grownups alike that brings the imaginative play of toy blocks to your iPad’s touch-screen, allowing you to bring your digital creations to life. Snap together colourful 3D blocks to create anything you can imagine – from crazy characters to cars, space rockets, animals, robots, planes, monsters, and much more – and then bring your creations to life and play with them! Simple drag-and-drop controls make it easy to add interactivity and animations to anything you make. Tap “Play” and get ready to smile as your creations walk and talk, jump, drive, fly, shoot lasers, fire rockets, or even explode.

A new video accompanies the launch, which sees a return of some of the humour found in Boldai’s own video promos.

In keeping with the Lab’s philosophy with its new products, Blocksworld creations can be shared with other users.

The app is available free of charge on Apple’s App store, with the Lab going with the model they eventually adopted for Creatorverse – sell “themed packs” as in-app purchases which users can then bolt-on to the basic application and increase their creative opportunities. The expansion packs can be seen in action on the Blocksworld website, and it would seem that some of them call into question as to what capabilities are actually available in the free product. The promo video shows rockets flying, for example, but the rocket capability is one of the in-app purchases, along with wheels and walkers, which also feature in the promo video.

As a 3D building tool which has already been shown to have appeal among children prior to Boldai being acquired by LL, and allowing for the possible need to buy the various expansion packs to do much of what is shown in the promo video, Blocksworld could prove to be far more of a success that Creatorverse, and more visually engaging (think electronic Lego).

Whether Blocksworld will debut on other devices – such as Android tablets – remains to be seen. Boldai did originally have plans in this regard, but little has been said on the subject since they were acquired by LL.

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