Las Vegas - There Inc. launched an online service here on Wednesday geared toward giving consumers a better online environment for socializing, which the company believes will give people a reason to upgrade their PC and even add broadband Internet access.
Tom Melcher, There's CEO, said the killer application for the Internet is online socializing. His research found that more people chat and Instant Message then send email or just surf the web. However, most people are not content with the interactive services now offered, he said.
He described There is an immersive online environment where friends can get together to chat and play games. The company has been developing the service since 1998 and has conducted a low-key beta test for just over one year. The launch at CES opens the public Beta test period that is expected to last for six months with the service officially going online in June, Melcher said.
'We give people a place to hang out online with their friends, kind of like an online Club Med,' he said.
There also announced on Wednesday a partnership with graphic card maker ATI, which will bundle There's software with its cards starting in the third quarter. Hewlett-Packard is also supporting the service and There has inked merchandising deals with Levi's and Nike. There is available via a free download from www.there.com, but when the service launches in June there will be a monthly service fee, probably in the $10 range.
Melcher's goal is to offer such a rich online environment that consumers will want to upgrade their PC to be able to access all the features. The system will work fine with a dial-up modem, but the faster the connection and more powerful the PC's processor the better the online experience, he said.
'There Inc.s compelling 3D online environment delivers both fun and excitement and we intend to make it available to our customers,' said Tom Anderson, HP's vice president of marketing.
Melcher also expects There to have an impact at retail. By Christmas 2004 There plans to have kiosks in stores running the There service. 'When people see how much better it runs on a higher end PC with a broadband connection that is what they will want to buy,' he said.
Unlike conventional chat and Instant Messaging services, There is a virtual world with several distinct areas that are totally controlled by the user. These people construct a virtual image of themselves, basically a full-sized avatar, and can add a home and a wide variety of accessories from dune buggies to clothing.
These items are purchased with There Bucks. These can be either bought with real money or earned online. There money is made by setting up events online events, like a dune buggy race, and then selling tickets or by designing and selling clothes for the avatars.