Do Webkinz change the way we look at pets?

Every time I stop by my local Petsmart store to buy kibble, I can't help but notice the explosion in the sheer number and variety of dog outfits on display. This trend really reached the tipping point for me when I saw that they had a sale on winter fashions that were about to go out of season and they needed to make room for the spring collection! If you go to the Petsmart website, they have the several departments for dog clothes including dresses, holiday apparel, pajamas, sweaters & coats, t-shirts, and costumes including a Princess Leia outfit that epitomizes the height of anthropomorphic madness. This pet fashion craze clearly isn't just about protecting Fluffy against frigid weather.

Then the trend truly jumped the shark in my mind when I saw that there were decorative harnesses and outfits for ferrets as well. "Great for Special Occasions" says the Marshall Pet Fashions tag that shows ferrets sporting a leather jacket, tie-dyed shirt, or Santa outfit. Interesting to wonder what constitutes a special occasion for a ferret.

Of course the ads are really speaking to the pet owners. This trend feels like a convergence of several social forces: kids as status symbols, pets as family members, pets as an expression of individuality, fashionistas carrying little dogs in handbags, and our general American preoccupation with buying stuff.… Read more

Gift guide: What Web addicts want

We bet you know someone who does everything online, from banking to making friends, to kicking back. If you're stuck trying to find great gifts for the constant blogger, video vulture, or online socialite in your life, take a look at this virtual gift guide that shows you get it, and you care.

Gizmoz rolls out new face-mapping video service

We're total suckers for video products that let us use our face. A few months back, Caroline put my head on a woman's body with the launch of JibJab's Starring You service, and shortly before that, Rafe played around with Fix8, which lets you overlay live video with avatar and object overlays. Both are vastly different technologies, but the idea is the same: quick entertainment with very little effort on the part of the end user. Along the same lines, Gizmoz, which has been providing 3-D face-mapping technology to the masses since late May, is launching a … Read more

Webkinz rival takes you to Funkeys town

NEW YORK--U.B.Funkeys is a new line of vinyl figures from Mattel that double as avatars in a virtual world.

Instead of entering a code as with the Webkinz, you place your Funkey in a USB docking station. The character is then recognized in the virtual world of Terrapinia, a place filled with funk and other music.

The starter kit with USB docking station and two characters is available for $19.99, with additional Funkeys vinyl figures for $4.99 each. There are over 40 different Funkeys and each one has unique abilities in-world in addition to a bio … Read more

Hate your friend's avatar? Redo it

The truth is, some people just don't have much style; and it's up to you to usher in the revelation.

That's one way to look at a Yahoo Messenger plug-in that helps you give your buddies' avatars a makeover (see special feature for more on avatars). Back in the old days, before plug-ins were invented, we had to coax and needle our contacts for permission to outfit them with some fancy new 'dos and duds. Now we can mount an indirect atta--suggestion--for avatar rebirth, all in the name of good chatting fun.… Read more

3D Mailbox: Extremely useless

When you first look at 3D Mailbox, it almost seems like a joke, or an article from The Onion. "The world's first 3D e-mail client!" the Web site proclaims. Well, there's a reason for that. Most of us struggle with too much e-mail these days. Taking the time to add 3D animations to each message seems ludicrous...and it is!

3D Mailbox delivers almost exactly what it promises. It creates a 3D world in which your e-mail messages can live...and walk, shower, swim, or even shuffle about aimlessly. When you receive mail in 3D Mailbox, a 3D character representing each message walks in the front gate and talks to the bouncer (who decides if he or she is spam).

By default, the gender of the new avatar is determined by the (supposed) gender of the sender (it thinks Vladimir is a woman's name), and any questionable senders default to female. If the bouncer lets him or her through, the 3D character for each message takes a disinfecting shower, then walks extremely slowly over to the pool, climbs the high-dive platform, jumps in the pool, and swims laps until you decide to read it.… Read more

Moji, the Instant Messenger with a pet

Morf, an Australian startup, is releasing today Moji IM, a multi-IM client that works on the major IM networks (like Trillian does), but with with a twist: The software will display a 3D, animated, virtual "pet" alongside the chat window. The pet will discern your mood based on the text you're typing, and change its behavior to match. In other words, if you are saying happy things, you pet will bounce and prance around. If you're complaining, it will sulk. Update: Morf will not be releasing the Moji IM client today, after all. The company is … Read more

'The Simpsons' avatar creator: A marketing site done right

Up until this weekend I hadn't really been too excited about seeing the upcoming Simpsons feature-length movie. That was until I laid my eyes on the film's Web site.

Like most other movie marketing sites out there, it's full of a lot of Flash with bouncy navigation and a nearly unbearable amount of sound effects. There are the usual mini-games (both of which I might add are quite enjoyable), and links to the movie's MySpace profile (it is Fox, after all). The real gem however, is the Simpsons avatar builder--a piece-by-piece character maker that lets people … Read more

Avatars: Engineer the perfect digital you

In the cyberworld, Web customization is king--just as the millions of user-centric YouTube videos and MySpace Web pages attest. It's little wonder, then, that avatars, digital representations of you, are growing in function and form.

This collection of downloadable and Web-based avatar generators ranges from the more cartoon-like engines to three-dimensional architectures where users give life to their pint-size replicates. Be sure to tune into the video and photo gallery on my adventures with avatars, with CNET News.com's Neha Tiwari, for a personal take on the highlights and lowlights of some popular avatar builders.… Read more

Got a face for radio? Try Fix8 and Voices.com

One of the presenters at yesterday's Launch Silicon Valley event yesterday was Fix8, which makes technology that puts animated avatars on top of Webcam videos.

We've seen this before -- Webcam vendors like Logitech, Creative, and Microsoft have similar software that lets you overlay characters on top of your video stream. The stream can then be read by products like Skype and Eyejot (review). Fix8, though, works with any Webcam, and the company is trying to develop a more serious business around this technology. While the software is free and lets you do fun things (see video clip … Read more