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ViOS Wants to Build a 3-D Web

Internet start-up ViOS.com is banking on the idea that consumers want to surf the Internet in 3-D.

ViOS organizes the Internet into content categories and represents these categories as 3-D cities full of architectural structures. Users can move through the cities and landscapes in search of content or can type what they want to find.

The first step toward its goal of 1.5 million consumers takes place in November, when the company distributes the beta version of its software.

Bruce Milligan, chief marketing officer at ViOS, Cary, NC, thinks the software and service will appeal most to video-gaming fans and smaller e-businesses wanting to buy into virtual communities occupied by the leaders of their markets.

Users who type “books” into the search field, for example, will enter a virtual arts and entertainment community where Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com will be represented by large, eye-catching, architectural structures.

When users type in URLs and wait for Web pages to download, they travel over hills, into valleys, and over rivers or lakes on their way to the Web page's location in the ViOS landscape. The illusion of movement stops when the Web page is finished downloading, and the user then is sent to the two-dimensional Web page.

Real-time chat features will allow users to meet at a location within the landscape, talk, travel the virtual world and surf e-commerce sites together.

The company will mail the software free to users who request it. It will consume about 30 megabytes of disk space and can be downloaded at no charge from ViOS.com in 60 minutes to 90 minutes with a 56K modem. The company will have its own hosting facility to handle the bandwidth required to distribute the downloadable version of the software.

Milligan said bandwidth is not a major issue because all the graphics needed to run ViOS are installed on a user's hard drive instead of streamed. New businesses or graphic depictions are downloaded onto hard drives when bandwidth is not in use, he said.

About 1,000 users have requested the software in the past eight weeks.

Officials at ViOS, an acronym for Visual interactive Operating System, believe anyone with a browser will want to use its graphically depicted Internet, “but we can't market to the entire universe,” Milligan said.

ViOS beta testing will be focused on the college student demographic. Milligan said this group is heavily influenced by viral marketing and is already familiar with 3-D computer gaming.

“They spend their lives on computers, they have Net access in dorm rooms and computer labs, they're very social people and extremely influenced by word of mouth, and for the most part they've grown up with 3-D games and entertainment as part of their life, whether it was Nintendo, Sega or arcade games,” Milligan said.

By inking affiliate marketing deals with more than 250 highly trafficked Web sites — including Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com and MP3.com — ViOS will collect commissions from purchases its users make at these sites. Fifteen thousand other sites will be included in the ViOS landscape but will not have their company logos displayed and will not pay commissions to ViOS.

The real goal of the affiliate deals is to gain permission to bring recognizable, real-world logos into a virtual world. This will give consumers a sense of familiarity and an incentive to use ViOS. More importantly, it gives smaller Internet businesses the ability to place themselves within close virtual proximity of highly trafficked giants and instantly recognizable logos that dominate their respective industries.

As an example, a small bookseller could buy up real estate in the arts and entertainment community near the entrance to BarnesandNoble.com or Amazon.com and feed off the traffic going to those sites. Advertisers will work with ViOS to add individual flavor to their ViOS structure.

Milligan believes ViOS will attract a steady flow of advertisers once a large consumer user base is established. But supplying the content to attract the consumers who will in turn attract advertisers has placed ViOS in a pickle. “It's the classic chicken or the egg dilemma,” he said.

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