My collegue Daniel in Beijing did a great interview with Hui Xu, the founder of HiPiHi.
HiPiHi is a 3D Virtual World similar to Second Life with focus of chinese users.
Here is the interview – see also our China Blog.
CScout recently China paid a visit to the office of HiPiHi in Beijing’s Haidian District, for an interview with Hui Xu. Hui, founder and CEO of HiPiHi, was the general manager of MyWeb China, and was nominated as one of the “Top Ten China Internet Heroes” in 1999. Hui was also the chairman and CEO of JingQi XiShu Co. Ltd, which became one of the most successful e-commerce sites in 2000. Together with Xinhua Liu, he co-founded HiPiHi in 2005.
Can you briefly introduce HiPiHi?
“We founded HiPiHi nearly two years ago, and the site is currently in beta testing mode with about 10,000 users – about 15 percent are from overseas. Our public test will happen in August, and the full commercial launch will hopefully be sometime in the autumn. HiPiHi is currently the only Chinese virtual world, and probably only the second company worldwide after Second Life (SL) to offer a totally interactive, immersive and open-ended experience for users to create, inhabit and govern a new world of their own design.”
Why did you start HiPiHi? Is the Chinese market ready and who are your target audience?
“After being involved in several different 2D web ventures, I decided it was time to try something new. I took some time off and decided to create a site which moved away from just text and images to providing a truly 3D, experiential environment.
From a purely market perspective, I have to say that China is not quite ready for HiPiHi, but it will be very soon. I felt that now was the time to create a company at the cutting edge of 3D site development. In China broadband technology and penetration is already very mature, and bandwidth cost has decreased significantly. We knew that SL had already explored this area several years before, and had a proven business model. It will undoubtedly take some time to foster and educate the Chinese market, but we are ideally placed to lead the way. We like to think of 3D web as a paradigm shift from 2D web – eventually the whole web will be 3D, and 3D technology will become part of our lifestyle.”
“We want to target anyone with a computer and net connection. By definition, this usually means a young, educated, relatively well-off demographic group. As you know this group is growing daily in China. Although we are currently focusing on the Chinese market, we are thinking globally in the long-term. We are aspiring to create a 3D net standard, engendering a global virtual community, and are working to offer HiPiHi in multiple languages.”
How are you going to make money?
“A very important question. Of course, a business model similar to a 2D model can be applied in 3D. Advertising and branded products will be incorporated within HiPiHi. We have been approached by the marketing departments of many foreign and Chinese companies looking to become involved in HiPiHi. Subscription to HiPiHi will be free, although there will be products/services for sale within the world. We haven’t yet decided whether there will be a HiPiHi currency as in SL yet – a lot depends on market regulations – but of course there will be trading.”
Will you be “policing” the site?
As a platform provider we will not be policing HiPiHi as such. HiPiHi is a free world where users can do and create whatever they want – user-generated content is the key to HiPiHi. There will also be no age limit as to who can enter HiPiHi. Having said that, there will be technical restrictions to ensure that everything in HiPiHi complies with Chinese regulations – no pornography, gambling, violence or politically sensitive material. There will also be adult zones where access will be tightly controlled. Users who are the subject of complaints by other users will be investigated, and if necessary their accounts will be terminated – it’s very easy to see who’s been breaking the rules!”
Is HiPiHi a “clone of Second Life”, as many people have been saying?
“No, we don’t think so, and we don’t listen to these comments. Of course we have respect for Second Life – they are pioneers in this field – and HiPiHi does have some similarities with SL. However, the fundamental difference is that we are targeting different values and cultures. A virtual world is not just a 3D environment, but a complicated social system involving relationships, policies etc. HiPiHi was born in China, and we really hope it can embrace Chinese culture. We also believe functionality will be better in HiPiHi than in SL. For example, HiPiHi will make creativity a much simpler process by using pre-fabricated objects, and there will also be advanced setting for users to build customized objects for trading.”
What are / were some of the major challenges to overcome when creating HiPiHi?
“We were moving into uncharted territory when designing HiPiHi. Broadly speaking, there were three types of challenges. Firstly, conceptual challenges. What exactly is 3D web? How to create a seamless, scalable, smooth environment in which users could truly express their creativity. Secondly, technological challenges. We have already overcome many technical barriers, and will no doubt need to overcome many more – this is groundbreaking work we are doing here, with a huge emphasis on R&D. Thirdly, challenges related to talent. We need passionate, highly-skilled employees involved in HiPiHi. The next big challenge I think will be taking HiPiHi from a Chinese environment onto the global stage – it will be a huge undertaking, but one I’m confident we can handle.”
What are your targets in terms of finance and site development?
“We are about to close a round of investment involving companies and individuals from the US, Japan and Singapore for less than US$10 million. Series A funding was undertaken by the Guangcai Investment Group, and there may be further rounds in the future. As for the number of users, we’re aiming for 500,000 to 1,000,000 by the end of the year.”
How would you sum up the Chinese market now in terms of online social media and the development of “Web 3.0”?
“We believe a major trend will be the gradual move from a 2D to 3D web environment. As time goes by the whole social networking arena will shift into the 3D environment. The contextual web as we know it today will become a truly experiential web, as users and providers explore new ways to effect functionality, creativity and generally improve the online environment. In this respect, we hope that HiPiHi will be ahead of the curve.”
Images: Daniel Allen and HiPiHi