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Express yourself with BuddyPoke!

Since its debut on your networks, BuddyPoke has quickly become one of the most popular OpenSocial applications. BuddyPoke was co-created by Randall Ho and Dave Westwood. Randall, who describes himself as the “Art dude” and Dave the “Engineer guru,” gave us some insight into their awesome application:

How would you describe BuddyPoke in a nutshell?
I’d classify BuddyPoke as somewhere in between a “3D Instant Messaging Application,” and a “DIY Greeting Card” app. But mostly, it’s just a fun toy for people to express themselves as a 3D cartoon and to do simple interactions with their friends.

Where did you get the idea for BuddyPoke?
Our collective background for the past 11 years has been primarily in the Web3D movement — Dave having written various 3D renderers and myself being a 3D artist with a character-bent. So naturally, we wanted to leverage those skills we were best at (and most interested in) and see how we could apply this knowledge to making social network applications. The “Poke-type” application seemed to be the most popular out there and also seemed to be the perfect fit for our combined skill set.

The look of BuddyPoke was a very pragmatic decision on our part — the idea being that your most popular and universal characters such as Mickey Mouse, Mario, Pikachu, Sonic the Hedgehog — are all cutesy and not … how would you call it … heavy on the testosterone? It was very important for us to create an application that appealed to women (the assumption being that men would follow). So it seemed to us that the Anime or “Super Kawaii” look would cast the widest possible net.

What is your favorite aspect of the application?
One of the first friends that I added was an Italian Goth Metal singer in some band I’ve never heard of. Well — she’s Italian, so I can’t understand or message her either! Anyway, looking at her avatar and her friends’ avatars really made me feel like we had accomplished something. She and all her friends’ Avatars were all dressed in various Goth-gear — black and red or black and purple, with boots and hair-dye and whatnot.  I just think it’s so cool that people can express themselves in various styles, even though they were not styles that we had originally envisioned or planned for.

We spent a ridiculous amount of time creating the tools and pipeline in order to have a rich customization feature-set, so it was rewarding to see that perhaps that time was well spent.

What would you say to someone who wants to create an application?
For me personally, I wish some developers would focus on making one or two good applications rather than trying to make a dozen. We are constantly thinking of ways to improve BuddyPoke, and there is never a shortage of ideas from our users about new features to add.

If Dave were to give one piece of advice, my guess is that it would be this — it doesn’t matter how good your application is if you haven’t thought enough about how to make it viral.

Do you have any advice for Buddy Poke users?
Ah well, I’d hope that our application is so easy to use that they don’t need any advice! 🙂 Plus, we’re too lazy to come up with instructions. But anyway, most users who contact us are asking for stuff like new clothes, hairstyles and animations. And, you know  — this is pretty much what I do 75 percent of the time — is to make more stuff for BuddyPoke — so more stuff is definitely on the way.

Tell us more about yourself and where you are from
I was born in Hawaii, and I’ve been an artist since the age of 10 or so and originally wanted to be a comic book artist. I ended up in the Bay Area after art college and wound up in video games, since that’s where most of the jobs were and it was a nice marriage of art and computers, which were my two primary interests.  I guess that seems silly to say, since someone under 25 might not make a distinction between the two.  In the world of video games, I’m what’s known as a “technical artist” — which is loosely a bastard-child of an artist and a programmer. I live in Berkeley.

Dave is originally from England and similarly, migrated here after university. He now lives in Palo Alto. I would describe Dave as sort-of being a “John Carmack” of software renderers. Although he is an engineer with crazy depth and breadth of skills, he is exceptionally versed at making 3D engines, having made a couple of Java-based 3D engines, 3D engines for cellphones, and most recently, the engine for BuddyPoke, which runs on top of Flash/Actionscript. Contrary to what most developers assume, we are using a proprietary 3D engine [rather than something freely available, such as Papervision3D]  in order to tailor assets for maximum efficiency and compression.

Dave and I have worked with each other at five different companies, so we have some history together(!) About a year and a half ago, we decided to do a startup, and BuddyPoke is our first OpenSocial app.