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Tuesday, 16 December 2008 11:11

BigPond News available in 'œ3D' wall

Shrugging off the exclusion from the NBN process, Telstra has leveraged technology from a company called “CoolIRIS” to deliver a pretty “3D” news wall that also shows images and videos from a range of other sites, including YouTube, Deviant Art, Google and others – but is it real 3D?

Although the new “3D news wall” technology available over at the new BigPond News site is quite pretty, showing you an image “wall” on an angle that is sort of 3D-ish, it’s the same sort of thing as calling Telstra’s “holographic demo” of a few months ago a true hologram.

That hologram wasn’t a true hologram at all, but instead a very clever projection. Similarly, there’s no true “3D” to be seen at BigPond News 3D, although the CoolIRIS technology does look cool.

Telstra Media Group MD Justin Milne called it a “visually stunning fly-through picture wall” and has dubbed it “BigPond News 3D”.

Milne said: “The Internet and mobile phones have made it simpler and quicker for people to find out what is happening in the world and our upgrade to our BigPond News service means we can now give our customers even more news across a range of categories.

“BigPond now offers an online interactive image wall service, BigPond News 3D, that allows you to rapidly scroll through a virtual wall of pictures and by simply clicking an image, you will be instantly taken to the news story, a new way of presenting news online and a first in Australia from BigPond,” Mr Milne said.

The CoolIRIS application also lets you visually see a wall of images and videos from a range of other sites using a “search tool” in the top right hand corner, making it an alternate way to browse Google, YouTube, Deviant Art and several other sites.

To access CoolIRIS, you’ll need Firefox 2 or 3 on your PC or Mac, Internet Explorer on your PC, or Safari on your Mac, and you’ll need to download the appropriate plug-in. There are no Google Chrome or Opera browser plug-ins as yet.

Unfortunately, despite Milne’s statements about “mobile phones” making it “simpler and quicker for people to find out what is happening in the world, (etc etc)”, a note at the end of Telstra’s press release on the topic says: “The BigPond News 3D wall, powered by CoolIris, is only available online and not on mobile.”

Well, why not Telstra? A quick look at the iTunes App Store on the iPhone shows that the CoolIRIS application does indeed exist for free download. Sure, it might not be available for the rest of the mobile world, but if you’d wanted to, a BigPond News 3D service could have been made available for iPhone users.

I guess that’s just a bit of nitpicking, and because dealing with tiresome Linux zealots earlier in the day has made me a bit grumpy, mainly because dealing with zealots (especially of the mind-warping Linux variety) is always a tiresome, bang-your-head-against-a-brick-wall kind of affair, but still: Telstra could have made it happen for the launch if it wanted to. I guess with the NBN exlcusion, ordering up a customised iPhone version of the BigPond 3D news wall wasn't high up on the list of spending priorities.

Beyond the nitpicking and the Linux zealots, BigPond News has a more useful addition: “up to 180 video news updates per day, including hourly bulletins, sport, entertainment, politics and business wraps, available online and on mobiles”. Ah, this time mobiles are included, making me a bit less grumpy.

So, what else does Telsta have to say about its upgrades to the BigPond News service, and just how popular has it been since it launched several weeks ago in October? Please read on to page 2.

Telstra says its BigPond News service “covers national, entertainment, sport, world, politics, technology, environment, health, weather and odd-spot topics, including a six month archive of stories.”

Telstra says it has also given special attention to “business and finance coverage with hourly video market updates during trading hours and extensive market data”, with all these categories supporting “RSS news feeds so the latest headlines from each section will be available instantly in a news reader.”

It looks pretty comprehensive, although presumably Telstra is simply licensing news content from the standard news providing sources, which is how it can put together a rich news site with lots of stories and videos very quickly, and without any actual journalists.

Telstra also mentions its BigPond Live News service, a separate news TV channel. This is actually a rebadged “Sky News Australia” feed, with the BigPond logo super-imposed, with the main news and other headlines on a continuing, updated loop.

When live news breaks, the updated feeds go direct to whatever Sky News is broadcasting, be it a sermon from Australia’s Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, or some other important national or international event.

Although the BigPond web version of the service, is free and unmetered for BigPond users, and free for users of other ISPs (aside from the fact your ISP won’t unmeter the video downloading), Telstra also has a mobile version for its Next G and 3G customers, at AUD $4.95 per month, $1.95 for a “day pass” or 50c for a news bulletin. Clearly if you intend watching a lot of BigPond Live News on your Telstra mobile, the $4.95 monthly pack is the cheapest option.

Telstra’s Milne said that: “Since October 2007 we have experienced a near five-fold increase in visits to our BigPond News section on Telstra Next G mobiles as customers catch-up on the latest news as they travel to and from work or while they are out and about on the weekend.”

To show how popular the service can be, especially when live news breaks, Telstra noted that “on the day of the 2008 US Presidential Elections, there was a sixfold increase in streams of the BigPond Live News service on Next G mobile phones and an 829 per cent increase in streams online.”

So, the CoolIRIS service is a nice graphical interface and fun to play with, but once the novelty wears off you might find the BigPond News site itself a simpler and faster to get to the news.

Don't forget to make that iPhone version!

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

Alex Zaharov-Reutt is iTWire's Technology Editor is one of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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