Wetmachine Blog: meta-medium

virtual worlds as a medium containing other media

Dude – Who brought the ‘script’s to the party?

party

This week, some of our early adopters got together for a party in virtual reality. One amazing thing is how High Fidelity mixes artist-created animations with sensor-driven head-and-hand motion. This is done automatically, without the user having to switch between modes. Notice the fellow in the skipper’s cap walking. His body, and particularly his legs, are being driven by an artist-created animation, which in turn is being automatically selected and paced to match either his real body’s physical translation, or game-controller-like inputs. Meanwhile, his head and arms are being driven by the relative position and rotation of his HMD and the controller sticks in his hands(*).

So, dancing is allowed.

But the system is also open to realtime customization by the the participants. Some of the folks at the party spontaneously created drinks and hats and such during the party and brought them in-world for everyone to use. A speaker in the virtual room was held by a tiny fairy that lip-sync’d to the music. One person brought a script that altered gravity, allowing people to dance on the ceiling.

dancing


*: Alas, if the user is physically seated at a desk, they tend to hold their hand controllers out in front of them. You can see that with the purple-haired avatar.

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Feeding Content

Our latest High Fidelity Beta release builds on June’s proof of concept, which suggested three visitable places above the address bar. Now we’re extending that with a snapshot feed. This should assist people in finding new and exciting content, and seeing what’s going on across public domains.
Just The Basics:

I. There is now a snapshot button in the toolbar: It works in HMD, and removes all HUD UI elements from the fixed aspect-ratio picture. If you are logged in to a shareable place, you also get an option to share the snapshot to a public feed. (Try doing View->Mirror and taking a selfie!)

snapshot-review

II. The “Go To” address bar now offers a scrollable set of suggestions that can be places or snapshots: The two buttons to the right of the address bar switch between the two sets, and typing filters them. Clicking on a place takes you to that named place, but clicking on a snapshot opens another window with more info. You can then visit the place that snapshot was taken by clicking on the picture, explore the other snapshots taken by that person or in that place, or share the picture to Facebook if you choose. If your friends follow your share to the picture on the Web, they can click on the picture to jump to the same place – if they have Interface installed.

feed

(None of this has anything to with our old Alpha Forums picture feed, which isn’t public or scalable, nor are there changes to the old control-s behavior.)
Where We’re Headed:

There’s a lot more we can do with this, but we wanted to release what we have now and find out what’s important to you.

  1. We’re also thinking about other activity and media you might like to share and see in the feed, such as joining a group or downloading from marketplace.
  2. How might we use the “wisdom of crowds” to score and order the suggestions, based on real activity that people find useful?
  3. The community is quite small right now, and often your real world or social media friends do not have HMDs yet. So for now there there’s just one shared public feed of snapshots. As we grow, we’ll be looking at scaling our infrastructure, and with it, more personalized sharing options.

As we move forward:

  • We don’t want to require a login to use High Fidelity or to enjoy the suggestions made by the feed. We do require a login to share, and we’d like to offer personalized feeds in the future based on your (optional) login.
  • We don’t want to require connecting your High Fidelity account to any social media, but we do want to allow you to do so.
  • We don’t want to share anything without you telling us that it is ok to do so.
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Vision

Nice video on how some folks are building Virtual Worlds for distributed teams. This is a little different angle than my emphasis (at Teleplace), which is more on working together on a daily basis (e.g., with multiple app sharing in a secure environment) than on team building.

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Meeting DVR

We’ve been creating new technologies faster than I can blog about them. Of course, I can’t say anything until they’re out, and then I’m focused on the next challenge instead of describing the last. One thing we’ve had for a while now is a “virtual DVR”.

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What's in a name?: Application Collaboration

<%image(20090711-application-collaboration.png|433|347|Application Collaboration)%>
It has been hard to express the character of this new way of working through collaborative 3D virtual worlds. I’ve made lots of explorations of the many ideas, but two of the biggies have been that:

  1. Applications are shared by many people simultaneously. This does not mean just that one application program license can be used on many computers, or that copies of an application’s document can be passed around, although these are true. I think the unique thing is that the live combination of application/document can be used by many people simultaneously, as though looking over each other’s shoulder.
  2. Each person can use many applications simultaneously. This does not mean just that a user can switch between application windows on their own desktop, but rather that they can easily be arranged and used in a persistent context that is shared in real-time between users.

We call this “application collaboration” to distinguish it from other forms of collaboration that do not have this dual nature. I’m still wrestling with the term.

I think the above picture of today’s Forums gets at this very nicely. Below is a picture of Croquet from more than two years ago. It’s interesting to me that they are functionally equivalent, and yet today’s picture makes the point of application collaboration so much clearer in both picture and practice. (I showed the two pictures to my wife. She said it was my strength and my weakness that I could see that both were illustrating the same concept.)
<%image(20060507-multi.jpg|433|275|Croquet Application Collaboration)%>

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3D vs 2D for Legacy Applications

When Alan Kay’s team at Xerox created the overlapping window user interface, they were working for a document company. Everything was organized around documents mimicking paper, sitting in folders except when being operated on by one application or another.

We don’t need the paper metaphor anymore, but we sure have a lot of 2D paper-oriented legacy stuff laying around. While 3D is pretty clearly winning for new applications in which people work together(*), it hasn’t yet demonstrated something so much better with which to replace all the existing 2D docs and their applications.

The state of user-interface design has provided two ways to deal with this: virtual computer displays embedded into the 3D world, and floating 2D windows. Both are pretty good and have their place.

Intensive Care Unit
One avatar is operating an in-world bio-signs display, which is also being shown in the lower left as a 2D panel floating over the view of the virtual room. The text chat is a 2D floating panel in the upper left, while the procedure timer and other applications are in-world.


(*)Without people, there is no realtime collaboration. 2D includes people only as second class abstractions rather than reifing them as first class objects in the communications model. For teaching, training, and working meetings (as opposed to mostly unidirectional sales presentation meeting and lectures), 3D has emerged as the most natural way to show individual presence, and the simplest way to provide enough immersion to give a sense of shared presence.

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Subsumption Assumption

Ack, this was sitting in my drafts folder for nearly a year. At the time I started it, someone had asked about how one might use Croquet virtual worlds to subsume other technical functions in the same way that the World Wide Web has incorporated other resources and functions. I did five minutes on the taxonomy of the problem-space.

I should have just answered with this video of Intel’s John David Miller demoing the use of Twitter from within a Qwaq Forum. He fills in the stuff on the Twitter Web page (crappy hand-held video, below) and then I love how the audience guy asks, “And then you can bring the result in to the world?” JDM answers that it already is, and dollies back to show that the whole interaction has been in world the whole time.

Reminds me of this from way back when.

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Hanging Out in the Lobby

A lot of us like to run Forums all day, like an IM client. In the new version, you can log in to your organization without actually entering any of its forums(1). We think of it as hanging out in the lobby of that organization. You can watch people going in and out, text chat with them, and join them in whatever forum they are working in(2).

The idea is that if virtual world technology is a meta-medium that subsumes, for example, instant messaging, then it ought to do IM as well as dedicated IM clients while retaining the benefits of the virtual world technology. In the case of Forums, that means secure communication.


  1. In Forums, each user is a member of one or more organizations.
  2. People tend to have one forum per project at work.

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Sounds Good

One of the general internal themes of Croquet is that everything ought to just work, and work well. Most practicing software developers aren’t fortunate enough to be able to create artifacts like this because the software is aimed at addressing a very specific problem. That tends to lead to tools of limited scope and interaction.

Consider sound. If you only want to make voice chat work, you can use a low fidelity encoding on a lossy transport. It will do what it does well, but only that. Now suppose you and someone else are watching a movie and discussing it, using separate programs for the movie and VoIP. Either program might work well, but use them together and everything is likely to go to hell.

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Are we there yet?

I love Google Alerts. Last night one came in that seems to mark a change. Instead of folks like me talking about what we’d like to make possible, this one appears to be non-specialists (with good technical skills) discussing what people can do now.

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