Finding Nemo: How a startup turns your desktop into an ocean

When was the last time you thought of screen savers? If you answer is no, then you are not alone. But Neville Spiteri and Scott Yara want to change all that, and instead they want to take the idea of screen savers and turn it into a massively connected platform. Unlike the MMO games, they want to use this connected world to be a platform for creativity and learning.

Spiteri and Yara came together when Yara started Metapa, the pre-pivot Greenplum. Metapa was started in 2000 on the idea that media would go through a digital revolution and would in turn lead to need for a new kind of a studio and content distribution mode that would allow anyone to become a creator and send content to all places.

While Yara’s vision was spot on, things didn’t work out as planned. The digital media company ended up becoming a big data company which was eventually snapped up by EMC for north of $300 million dollars.

Spiteri, who in the past had worked on 3D technologies, however left Greenplum in 2003, long before the sale (December 2003) and started Wemo Media, with Yara as an investor and co-founder. “We couldn’t let go of the idea we had in the beginning,” said Yara.

Spiteri moved back to Los Angeles, set up shop in the funky Venice Beach and started working on what he calls “the Planet Participation Platform,” which has ability to sell individual creations from various artists, and also allows collaboration for complex projects. In many ways it does for visual and animation creation what Soundcloud does for audio. The platform already is getting a buy in from art education groups such as the:

USC Film School, Carnegie Mellon’s ETC, Art Institute of Pittsburgh; SAE, Berlin, Germany; Murdoch University in Perth, Australia; Loyola Marymount -­? Los Angeles, CA, Art Institute of California, Los Angeles; the Ex’pression College -­? Emeryville, CA

Today, the company launched theBlu, which has garnered support from some big time ocean lovers including Bill Joy (co-founder of Sun Microsystems) and Richard “The Virgin” Branson.

What is theBlu?

TheBlu is a downloadable app for PC and Mac and will soon be made available via the browsers and will work on the phones and tablets. It is a screensaver of “the ocean” and has many underwater habitats built into the screensaver. The application takes cues from location of the computer and changes the habitats based on location. You can buy various different species for your collection. Artists can create more species and sell them on the platform.

Here is how the company describes theBlu:

“TheBlu” turns the Internet into a globally connected 3D digital ocean wherein every species and habitat is an original work of art created by a worldwide community of artists, animators and developers, including Academy Award® winners Andy Jones and Kevin Mack, and students alike.

Exploring “theBlu” is as easy as browsing the web and includes information about species, exploration of geo-­located habitats, in-ocean tagging of fish, the purchase of species to grow your collection and customize your experience, social activity streams, event and photo sharing, and ocean life, swimming from user to user across the Internet, creating real time social interaction.

At launch, “theBlu” will enable a connected social exploration across 8 ocean habitats, including over 100 life forms with new habitats and species released monthly, and 15 “ambassador” species, sponsored by non?profit cause collaborators, to raise awareness and funds for ocean conservation.

TheBlu has gotten backing of non-profit ocean-oriented groups like the Ocean Elders, Mission Blue and WildAid.

Participating non-­?profit collaborators sponsor “ambassador” species and habitats in “theBlu” and users of “theBlu” are offered the opportunity to purchase these “ambassador” species and habitats for their virtual ocean environment. Twenty-­five percent of the purchase price of these virtual species goes directly to the non-­profit collaborators to fund projects that support their work in the real ocean environment. The program is also designed to increase awareness and reach for collaborating organizations and their conservation efforts.

“The really interesting thing about theBlu is how it brings together the biology, the activism of conservation, the beauty and the artistic elements as well as the grassroots, participatory social media movement. I’m very excited about the possibilities ahead,” said Joichi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab and advisor to Wemo Media.

Why am I excited about this?

I am excited about this for multiple reasons. First and most importantly, it is one of the applications that truly leverages what I have been saying for nearly a decade – hyper-connecivity. As most (if not all) computers in our life start to get connected, we are going to see emergence of these living-and-breathing applications, that take cues from location, time, weather and even our moods. I want to see more, not less of these applications.

Is a desktop client the answer? Probably not. I would love to see this on my television screen, because it would turn my television into a giant aquarium. Just imagine the impact of something like this on learning: the kids could learn about various fishes and other fauna and have fun at it. Today it is oceans, but it is equally easy to create the African Savannah or Galapagos Islands and turn them into a living class-room. The possibilities – they are simply limitless!