May 8, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Mapping a path for the 3D Web

PALO ALTO, Calif.--With the spread of online games, virtual worlds and services like Google Earth and, people may soon be spending more time, communicating more and shopping more in complex 3D Web environments.

That's why several dozen of the most influential figures in video game design, geospatial engineering, high-tech research, software development, social networking, telecommunications and other fields gathered here Friday and Saturday for the first Metaverse Roadmap Summit.

The event, held at the SRI International and produced by the Acceleration Studies Foundation (ASF), was the initial step toward what organizers and attendees alike hope will be a coherent path to the so-called metaverse--an Internet dominated by 3D technology, social spaces and economies.

As such, the invite-only group spent the two days in a series of talks, small breakout discussions and group presentations--all in the pursuit of consensus about what the metaverse, or some would say 3D Web, will look like in 10 years.

In the end, organizers will sift through hours of recordings of the various discussions and plan to produce a public document by the end of the summer that will lay out what they believe were the overriding conclusions and directions of the event. First, though, attendees will pore over two drafts of the document in the coming months to weigh in on the organizers' take on the so-called road map.

Ultimately, the ASF hopes to produce regular small Metaverse Roadmap gatherings, as well as full summits at least every two years.

In the meantime, the organizers have their work cut out for them because agreement about the metaverse of 2016 was hard to find.

While many took issue with the basic premise that an overriding 3D Web will be in place within 10 years, it was clear that most in attendance relished mixing it up as part of an august group that included Microsoft's Robert Scoble, former Sony Online Entertainment chief creative officer Raph Koster, PARC researcher Bob Moore, online game pioneer Randy Farmer, founder and currently IMVU CEO Will Harvey, and CNET Networks editor at large Esther Dyson.

"I thought we were going to focus a bit more on virtual worlds because when I hear the term metaverse, I hear 3D virtual worlds. And we ended up talking about virtual worlds as well as augmented reality, which to me is kind of separate technology in its vision," Moore said. But "it was good to get this group of people together because it is a group with a lot of common interests. And so I think it's good to get the group as a network together."

Several times Friday and Saturday, participants went off in groups of six or so to brainstorm various questions about the future of the metaverse. Primrily, the questions revolved around specifically what the metaverse of 2016 will look like and about what the chief research and development challenges might be in the interim.

After each breakout session, the groups returned to an auditorium to present their thoughts.

One of the questions asked most frequently throughout the event was whether an overriding metaverse of 2016 will be commercially owned or open source. There was little agreement about that, but it was clear that the companies seen as most likely to provide the tools for a single metaverse upon which many 3D, social applications could be built are Microsoft and Google.

In part, Google was seen as more likely because of its development of Google Earth and its recent purchase of the maker of the 3D modeling software, Sketchup.

But some felt that Microsoft could make a major play to become the metaverse provider and that it may well seek to buy something like the open-ended virtual world "Second Life" as a precursor to a larger play in the field.

Still, as the groups reported back, it seemed that few had reached clear visions of what the metaverse of 2016 will be, despite agreement that most people will be spending far more time in 3D, virtual environments than they do today.

CONTINUED: A software demonstration…
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So is this going to be built on/compatible with/have anything to do with VRML? I hope not.
Posted by jschind (9 comments )
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Posted by Myhrddin (8 comments )
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Posted by Myhrddin (8 comments )
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Why Not X3D/VRML?
Right. Ok, so you don't want to use the open unencumbered ISO standards to develop the most expensive content there is to create and own, so in effect, giving away all rights to it and making it something that your customer has to pay you again and again to rehost.

Yeah, that's smart fella.

It would be fun to get a similar group together of people who have actually developed and own real time 3D worlds, both single client side and multi-user server side. I think they possibly know more and have more road experience than most of the list in the 'invitation only' event. But hey, this is the web where one has to steal from the middle gazelle because the top gazelle has too much protection and the bottom gazelle has no stuff.

So now that 3D is hot, the usual suspects show up to tell us who wins and who doesn't, and as usual, few of them are actually in the business. Yep, that's the web: burglary and indulgences.
Posted by Len Bullard (454 comments )
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Re: Why Not X3D/VRML
> It would be fun to get a similar group
> together of people who have actually
> developed and own real time 3D worlds

Seems like these people were included. People like Will Harvey and Ralph Koster have certainly been involved with online worlds that had bigger impacts on bigger audiences than anything built upon VRML. I don't mean to diss standards or VRML but there are plenty of good reasons why plenty of people building online worlds would develop their own formats. What would World of Warcraft gain from X3D/VRML?

Posted by mjyo (1 comment )
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zomg Web 3.0!
Shouldn't we wait until Web 2.0 takes effect first? I mean, I don't even know what the heck it is yet. Then again, it's not like it'd be the first time the internet has brought upon itself a new, loosely-defined technology buzz-word that haphazardly gathers technologies in no real cohesive manner from across the web into one vague concept that only the 'leet-est' can comprehend the schema to. In traditional fashion, by the time the general consumers know what it is and can make practical use of it, it's not only old news, but obsolete and arcane, replaced by some new buzzword-blanket-industry that those who think they're 'in the know' struggle to figure out.
Posted by DraconumPB (229 comments )
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wow, such a 1990's topic
This sort of talk really takes me back.. ahh the heady days of VR
helmets, SGI (now filing for bankruptcy), and Snow Crash.

Nothing new but hey, the market is at least a little more matured
to 3d now. A significant portion of people actually HAVE 3d
chips in their computers and broadband hooked up to them..

Rock on I say! Don't get disillusioned just because another two
decades will pass before people start using 3d like we thought
they would in the 80's and were SURE they would in the 90's.
Posted by Hobyx (24 comments )
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Ma, Where Are My Rose-and-Blue Colored Glasses ...
so's I can particy-pate in that thar new-fangled, old-fangled ver-choo-wall ree-ally-tee stuff? Are these the same "invitation-only" elitists who were under the impression that people would pay a premium to shop for groceries on-line and have them delivered to their door, ala Were there any psychologists in this bunch who could explain to the rest of the group why people seem to have really become accustomed to the thousands-of-years-old experience of actually getting to squeeze the tomatoes and melons (in a grocery store, or some other venue! ;) ), what some marketing weenie might call the time-honored, reality-based "shopping experience"? Yes, there will always be a niche of bleeding-edgers who will want to "live" in a virtual world (and I thought my cubicle was starting to smell a bit gamey - but, it's nothing compared to what some full-time virtual voyeur's lair would probably get to be, assuming they haven't arranged for Rosie the Robot to occasionally pass through to spray some disinfectant and furniture polish on the grode-gathering surfaces! :) ).

Joe Six-Pack, my brother-in-law (or, is it brother-out-law?) is having enough trouble trying to figure out the difference between 720p and 1080i, and why does anyone need these new-fangled things called HD-DVD and Blu-Ray, when the DVD player he just got seems to put out a "high-death" display just fine, at least on his neighbor's home theater lash-up (JSP is still waiting for the prices of 60+ inch HDTVs to come down to under a month of his pay - although that all goes to his bills as it is, already, so HDTV prices still have a long way to go down, for him). Personally, I won't be very interested until virtual reality (The Metaverse, or whatever other different name it will undoubtedly be called 10 years from now) has reached the level of all-sense, full immersion, via direct brain electro-encephalic input/output, as envisioned in the 1983 movie "Brainstorm" (I just love the scene where the technician is discovered by his wife, repeatedly spasming and completely dehydrated while lying in his La-Z-Boy, after spending the whole weekend alone while she was visiting her mother, hooked up to the machine that's playing back an endless loop of "truly personal entertainment" :) ). I need the SKU for the VR system with the full-resolution Smell-o-Vision and tactile feedback options, please. Oh, and it's gotta cost less than a PSP, much less an XBox, in today's money.

Yeah, except for the massively-distributed interactive on-line gaming niche (which is what this group should have been looking at for indications and warning of what's coming 10 years from now), based on the success of and most of the rest of WebCommerce 1.0 (which was just a leading indicator for the rest of Web 1.0's ultimate performance in getting people living in virtual worlds), I'll put my money on it taking another hundred, if not a few thousand, years of human cultural evolution before brick-and-mortar stores, shopping malls, bazaars, etc., need to start worrying about where this month's rent is going to come from. Until then, average, real-world people are just going to keep squeezing the tomatoes (and melons ;) ), no matter what the eggheads dream up.

All the Best,
Joe Blow
Posted by Joe Blow (175 comments )
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Google should buy Second Life
Imagine the advertising opportunities that a 3D world like Second Life could bring to a company like Google. It may not be that lucrative now, but would be a great investment for expansion later on.

I wrote a blog about this a week ago.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by t8 (3716 comments )
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Imagine Owning the Avatar
Imagine buying or building an avatar that can walk into ANY online 3D world and just work.

People go to 3D worlds for the same reasons they go to shopping malls or even brothels: presence and intimacy. Snowcrash got that wrong.

It's just a GUI but a very powerful one. Just don't use it to do what 2D text does better.
Posted by Len Bullard (454 comments )
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I have been waiting for the 3D Metaverse
I am a web designer, but back in the 90s I use to build Doom levels for fun and loved the idea of creating 3D enviromnents. But what I really wanted to do was create a 3D world on the Internet. Perhaps I will be able to do that soon?
I am just waiting for the technology to come to me.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by t8 (3716 comments )
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I am surprised no one has mentioned 3DML yet, it was created by a company called Flatland (<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>). Tim Bray wrote an article about it on in 1999 titled "An Introduction to 3DML" (<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>)...granted 3DML is not currently for multiple users but that could change at a later date.

Len Bullard also did a story on in 2003 titled "Extensible 3D: XML Meets VRML" (<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>). Because of that article I recently asked him if he'd do a followup article to Tim Bray's 3DML article...he speaks like he knows 3D stuff on here; if that's the case then do a followup article on 3DML!
Posted by mlauzon (21 comments )
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Umm... Ok
1) If the article is going on XML.COM, the editor there needs to initiate it.
2) You mentioned in your request that you have asked another party to do this and I've not heard from anyone about either.
3) I've been blogging my thoughts on 3D spaces at <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

That may not be what you are looking for, but time and time again, single sites or products aren't as influential as the generalization. For example, as another poster says, augmented reality is an important application too. That is why I prefer the term 'real time 3D' over 'virtual reality'. That is a better description of the problem domain in that 1) there are no requirements for how real a VR space is, and in fact, it is a good idea to drop some of the realism quotient 2) the key to doing it for some applications (eg, simulation of sensor-laden environments) is to treat the space itself as an intelligent or sensate entity (see tensorWorlds and the discussion of proximity sensors.

I like apps like 3DML because they make it very easy to get into the 3D modeling artform. I prefer languages such as VRML97/X3D because they are not encumbered by patents, they are mature and stable, and as Bob Crispen says, are the optimum set of objects for doing varying kinds of applications. Gavin and Rick and crew did an excellent job of shaving away the rarer object types and coming up with a solid common core. So learning it opens up the 3D modeling talents very nicely.

Again: what we learned in VRML was

1) 3D content is expensive to make.
2) 3D content is expensive to own.

On the other hand, 3D is the best integrating and rendering paradigm for a multi-domain space that fuses different kinds of information simultaneously and dynamically. It pays to understand the implications of real time.

Croquet is very cool too. Watch that space.
Posted by Len Bullard (454 comments )
Link Flag
Augmented reality has virtual elements
It's inevitable that augmented reality came up and I'm astonished
that the organizer did not expect this. I'm even more flabbergasted
that he sees augmented reality as a separate category from virtual
reality. All of us are going to have to get over this conceptual
hump. Just think about the way that visual culture is a sort of
virtual element of embodied space. Augmented reality will provide
similar kinds of visual signage. Let's not abandon the body just yet.
Not for another twenty years anyway.
Posted by flockingparty (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
sooner than that !
Web in 3D ? Within 10 years?
I think its gono come much sooner than that.
A social site like but in 3D with your blog, music, etc... and compatible with any actual blog (as it is just HTML based), is already up and running.
Sorry if it is only in French for now.
Posted by (1 comment )
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Enter the metaverse today !
With Tixeo <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a> meeting3D and WorkSpace3D Web conferencing solutions you can communicate, present, work or teach online, all this in 3D.
Have a look !
Posted by denisang (1 comment )
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Along came Gogofrog
It seems that creating the online 3D universe is happening from all parts of the mixes avatars, chat, communities and is another entrant to the 'race'
See you online sometime :)
Posted by vincentteubler (1 comment )
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What happend to Adobe Atmosphere?
When Adobe rolled out it's new application "Atmosphere" a couple of years ago,many webmasters including myself were excited about the possibility of a new interactive and connected 3d web environment. Alas Adobe threw in the towel on this great piece of software which made it possible to easily publish and produce 3d for normal web browsers such as Internet Explorer and Firefox. There is now a glaring blank space for this type of software. Lets hope Google or another large company fills that Gap.
An example of the Abobe app - <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by greymond789 (1 comment )
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the Metaverse
the "Metaverse" (term originated from the novel Snow Crash) has been around since 1998 at <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a> - the original 3D chat community created entirely in VRML and viewable with Blaxxun Contact. We have an extensive community with many "Colonies" and "Neighborhoods" as well as a public swimming pool, cafe, flea market where you can "buy" virtual items after you get a "job", banks, museum, mall, and even a jail. Check it out. Members can create talking 3D avatars with facial expressions and movements- with an option of using your own face and enter a 3D world building contest. My house is located in Television Neighborhood where I have a "job" as Neighborhood Leader- at LOST block - come inbox me and I'll show you around Cybertown.
Posted by aimee002 (1 comment )
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Why does everyone assume the 3D Web and browsing the internet in 3D must be a virtual world with avatars and chat etc... ?

If this was a good thing then all sites would have an integrated chat systems right now. The fact that they don't illustrates that for the majority of sites out there, this is not appropriate.

I think the requirements for a 3D Web / internet start at a much simpler level providing the means to immerse and interact with content in a natural 3D way that is not constrained by how a particular virtual world technology decides to work.

This allows for all manor of uses as rich and varied as the web currently is that include applications &#38; services such as, yes, virtual worlds &#38; social browsing, but also retail, advertising and more abstract 3D navigation of information etc etc etc.....

Ste w
Posted by Stephen_Wilson (4 comments )
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