Who Am I?

Toney, Alabama, United States
Software Engineer, Systems Analyst, XML/X3D/VRML97 Designer, Consultant, Musician, Composer, Writer

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Why Isn't The Web 3D?

Kingsley, at the Eden project asks:

Just wondering, why don't people like Adobe have much interest in adding real 3D capabilities to Flash for the web? Is there anyone out there working on making the web 3-dimensional, in a manner of speaking? As in websites that have depth and which you actually walk through like you would in a supermarket. That would completely redefine web-design, wouldn't it?

Adobe has tried 3D. It didn't take. It might have been timing. The perception until recently is that browser-based games on the web are not competitive and that any other high-end use of 3D such as CAD require precision (thus size) that browser-based 3D can't achieve. In fact, you'll find that compliant VRML97 restricts the size of floats such that CAD can't be done. That was a conscious decision made by Gavin Bell over ten years ago and one of the reasons we moved on to a next-generation VRML, X3D.

Supermarket applications of 3D have been tried. They didn't take. Again it may be timing. For the last five or so years, we've known that it would be our children who were raised with video games who would embrace a 3D scene because it is natural for them to navigate these. For my generation, we are stuck in text mode and if you take a hard look at MySpace and Facebook, they are mostly aggregates of text widgets or players such as music players or kareoke.

On the other hand, most of the information people use the web to retrieve is book-oriented or the page metaphor as we called it years ago. IOW, text is a very very efficient way to deliver information. What no one outside of the gamers have really cracked is the design for 3D, specifically, real-time 3D that makes it natural to use the higher-level symbolic representations possible in 3D, the notable exception being avatars. So what you often see is 3D worlds that crush the text and 2D graphics into the world. As a result, there is noticeable decrease in efficiency of text presentation in 3D worlds particularly where text is rendered as simple textures.

So as I've said, as a business communications device, 3D is poor. As a pbx (meet and greet), it is so so. As a toy, it excels. Thus the emphasis on casual gaming for kids.

So ask yourself: what features of real-time 3D are possible that aren't possible in 2D and what tasks do they make more efficient?

3D is first about locale and proximity. Then how locale and proximity change the way one interacts with a high level symbolic representation.

On the other hand, a simpler way to think about this is to ask yourself as game experts like Raph Koster do, is my 3D scene fun? This is more than glib. As I've discussed elsewhere, the effects of the endocrine system, epenephrine, oxcytocin and endorphins when coupled to the behavioral psychology of fast feedback (strong scheduling and reward coupling) drive the mammals. Fun is addictive. Fun works. As a species, we dominate and thrive not because we are afraid of dieing, but because we have so much fun living.

Fun is better than morphine to keep them coming back.

The catch: the early world thinkers were Snowcrash/Neuromancer victims. They built what they believed their worlds should be and didn't notice that not everyone enjoys science fiction. It's made VR hard to sell ever since.


KB said...

If you think (like some evolutionary behaviorists do) that language came from gesture and text comes from language, then 3D as part of gesture is a huge empty aprt of the computer/web experience.

3D will come to everything, but not if the dominant media types are always a flat sheet (text, pictures, and videos)

Where 3D will do best is not in presentation (e.g., a web page on a wall in Second Life), but people WILL like 3D as expressive parts of the UI (e.g., how it's used in games)

Kingsley said...

Project Eden is already on SourceForge and is available under the BSD license. The release engineer at Funtrench expects download links to be on the website within the next four days. Internet connectivity delays have pushed the launch back a bit but try Eden.