Inventing the Future

Dial Tone

William Gibson has said, “I think in a very real sense cyberspace is the place where a … telephone call takes place.”

David says he thinks of Croquet as the dial tone for Cyberspace.

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Inventing the Future

The Colony

Our company CTO, David Smith, has been the principle architect of Croquet since the beginning. Long before that, he wrote the first commercial 3D game for a personal computer. Here’s some video (made with an actual video camera on old Mac) of how The Colony looked in 1987.

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Inventing the Future

VW on the Web

One of the great mashups going on now is not just mixing content, but media. WebTV. NPR on an iPod. MTV on YouTube. TV on the Radio. Some social virtual worlds are lightweight enough that they can run within the frame of a Web browser when you visit the associated site. While we have always had documents, applications, sounds, movies, and Web browsers running within our Croquet and Qwaq virtual worlds, we’re now doing a bit more ping-pong between the Web and Qwaq Forums.
< %image(20090816-ForumPage.gif|522|437|Web page corresponding to a room in a virtual world. Click for full size.)%>

Pages like this one make it easy to get information (e.g., documents) into or out of a forum without using the 3D collaborative client. Maybe you’re not at your usual laptop or desktop computer and only have Web access. Maybe you are an executive or assistant to someone working in the forum such that you can’t suit up and be seen.

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Inventing the Future

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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Inventing the Future

QRLs are not SLurls … but they play that role on the 'Net.

We’ve created ordinary http URLs that teleport you to places in-world in Qwaq Forums, Being programmers, we could not resist the pun of calling them QRLs. The most common uses today are:

  • meet me here – telling someone where to meet, in IM, email, or calendar invite
  • I was here – recording a history of where you were in a bookmark or some sort of audit trail
  • go there – even if working asynchronously, you can tell people where to go to explore more from a Web page, blog, or wiki

Most programs will recognize http://… and turn it into something clickable that starts your Web browser if it is not already started. Our QRLs produce a page that displays instructions, which is nice if you don’t yet have the Forums client installed. But if it is installed, the page can automatically launch the client and place you directly at the designated location.

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Inventing the Future

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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Inventing the Future

Materially Objective

Our David is cute. While testing today that the material editor was working, he captured the display material of the Python timer application running on the display stand, and then applied the material to the floor. The floor, the running application, and the material editor’s texture card and teapot sampler are all counting down.
< %image(20090106-material.jpg|713|476|Editing the material of the floor, using the material of the running Python timer application. All are counting down.)%>

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Inventing the Future

Validation In Depth

A neighbor and I were introducing ourselves to a third at a block party. The first made designer genes, while I made designer worlds. Everyone knew what we were talking about.

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Inventing the Future

What Do You Want to Do Today?

What can you do in a virtual world? Quite a bit, although we’re still quite far from the answer being, “Anything you can do in the real world.” Here’s a baseline list of today’s raw capabilities, in the language of virtual worlds. (The higher level activity one does with these capabilities is another story.)

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Inventing the Future

Voting and the Emergent Value of Presence

There’s a lot of interest in voting technology for the expected record numbers of voters in the US presidential election, and voting widgets have become an expected accessory in social Web sites. But the simplest voting technology is no explicit technology. Is there a place for that in virtual worlds?

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