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

When worlds collide

Interesting juxtaposition between these two from overnight:

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Inventing the Future

Places, Everyone!

Related to the URL addressing concepts discussed here, there is the question of how to denote places within a 3D world. I really like having names for these.

A typically engineering way to map out locations in a model is with coordinates. There are a couple of problems with this.

Numbers are generally pretty meaningless to users. I hate dealing in part numbers or account numbers rather than product and account names. Numbers just aren’t as mnemonic as a single name, and in 3D it takes a lot of numbers (six numbers of several decimal positions each) to describe the position and orientation you need to be in so that you can see something of interest.

Worse, a position and orientation are only interesting because of the things you can see and do there. If those things change (e.g., move, rotate, or change size), the coordinates for you to work with them are then different. We’re also interested in doing things in cooperation with other people. While it is true that unlike the physical world, several avatars can be in the same place, it is often cognitively and socially nicer to position a group of people around some item of interest rather than stacked up on top of each other.

Our client architect Brad Fowlow has led the development of several ways to address this by interactively or automatically creating a rather sophisticated set of named places from within-world.

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Inventing the Future

Being Seen

I’d been wondering whether anyone on our company’s Board of Directors knew who I was. I know a couple but it turns out most didn’t. But just before the last board meeting I ran into a director that I’m sure I had never been introduced to. He said, “Hi Howard” as we passed.

The only thing I can think of is that he must have recognized me from my avatar. I don’t remember now what I had worn when I had briefly participated in previous meeting. It could have been a photo- or video-faced “Lego man” or it could have been a custom avatar.
<%image(20090530-howard-lego.jpg|227|261|Video-faced Simple Avatar)%><%image(20090530-howard-jake.jpg|227|261|Custom Business)%><%image(20090530-howard-john.jpg|227|261|Custom Casual)%>

I haven’t been very interested in avatar appearance, but I guess there is value in having people build some personal familiarity without physically meeting. I don’t want cold-calls via virtual worlds, but I suppose that a scheduled virtual meeting or happenstance encounter in a virtual reception builds a stronger tie than email or telephone. I wonder how that will play out for sales and relationship-building in the future.

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Inventing the Future

A Great Miracle Happened There

One of the really great things about the WWW, as opposed to the Internet in general, is that the Web separates the concept of naming from everything else. A URL is bit of text that names a resource. You can type it. Except for some long URLs used by banks and in ecommerce, you can often even remember it. But most importantly, you can include the text in some other technology such as an email, an instant message, a calendar invite, a Web page, or even in a book or piece of paper. It can be sent and stored. The URL can be transmitted through this separate non-WWW media, and it still works on the other end.

When you name something, you have power over it. Like the dreidel mnemonic of the title, names help you to remember stuff. You can speak clearly about places and objects instead of just using misunderstood pronouns and long descriptions. And best of all, if you know something’s name, you can use it in casting a spell. (We call them programs.)

So a big part being able to work with virtual worlds, talk about them with other people, and use them in programs is to have a name – a URL that corresponds to each interesting thing about a virtual world.

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Inventing the Future

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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Inventing the Future

Crisis of Credit


The Crisis of Credit Visualized. Check out Jonathan Jarvis other work.

I can’t wait to see what such artists do with virtual worlds as a medium. As when moving pictures in various forms began by recreating concepts from the existing still pictures or stage theater, artists today are recreating other media in virtual worlds. In a way, my company is not helping things by making it increasingly easy to directly bring external media in-world: 2D static pictures and 3d static models, audio and movies, 1D text, documents, slide shows and spreadsheets, etc. Like some traditional ritualized art forms, it might be artistically more interesting to restrict the artist’s capabilities to whatever it is that is special about virtual worlds.

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Inventing the Future

Five for Talking

Travel for meetings is so last year. This management article in silicon.com describes five alternatives technologies to meetings: instant messaging, virtual worlds, telepresence, Wikis, and social networking. But do these really have to be separate? Let’s take a look at what each of these offers, and what it means for 3D virtual worlds to incorporate the other alternative meeting technologies.

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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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