Taiwanese operator puts commerce twist on blogging

Taiwan's Far Eastone started a new company to focus on PlayBlog, a Web site aimed at luring people into Web logging, or blogging, and podcasting.

One of Taiwan's largest mobile operators is launching a Web site that puts a new twist on blogging and opens the possibility for some real-world e-commerce down the road.

Taiwan's Far Eastone Telecommunications hopes its PlayBlog Web site will entice people into creating blogs, or Web logs, by allowing them to create a digital versions of themselves that can try on new clothes and buy furniture. If they like what they see, they may eventually be able to buy the real thing.

The operator has set up a new subsidiary to run the service, called Far Eastron, so that users wouldn't think PlayBlog is for its mobile phone subscribers only.

It's free to open a blog account on the site, at http://www.playblog.com.tw, but there are charges for some of the services.

To open an account, people are asked to upload a photo that gets converted into a digital caricature of themselves. The character can be given different hair styles and noses, thicker lips and more, before being placed on a "name card" that appears on the user's home page. That part of the service is free.

But if people want to show off their apartment, wardrobe and other items, it comes at a price. Fitting the caricature with a suit or a dress can cost around NT$15 (US$0.46), and there are many styles to choose from.

In the future, Far Eastron plans to work with fashion businesses to sell actual, real-world clothing at the site, since users will have a chance to see how they look in a certain style before making purchases, said Frank Sun, a manager at the company.

Users are also invited to buy a virtual house for their blog, for NT$50, and to add furniture -- all of which would show up to visitors. Furniture sales are another way that Far Eastron may work with businesses in the future, selling items via the Internet, Sun said.

But the point is to let users experience a different lifestyle in the virtual world and to have fun, he said. The company has no definite timeframe in mind for when it plans to begin selling real-world articles.

To build up a user-base quickly, Far Eastron plans to give away points that can be used instead of money to buy clothing and housing, as much as 200 points per user, the company said. The site is also equipped with a Podcasting function called Play DJ.

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