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

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

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

What's a Server?

I was taught that science is all about managing complexity by creating abstractions over different domains. A common layman’s mistake is to anecdotally observe or hear that something is true at some level, somewhere, and assume that this fact or definition applies throughout every discussion. For example:
One hears that computers are “programmed in binary,” or that they “understand binary,” but in fact, programmers don’t write in binary. Programmers work at a higher level of abstraction than binary encoding.
One hears that computers use “digital circuits,” that are simply “on” or “off”, but in fact, the physics of each electronic component is continuously variable. Device physics is at a lower level of abstraction than digital electronics.

So, what’s a server and what is peer-to-peer? It depends on what ‘s being discussed?

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Inventing the Future

It's about time…

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Worried about persistent security flaws in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, officials at the Pennsylvania State University system have taken the unusual step of recommending that students, professors, and staff members stop using the popular Web browser.

“The threats are real, and alternatives exist,” the university said in an announcement posted on its Web site this week.

Penn State appears to be the first American college to recommend against the use of Internet Explorer. However, the CERT Coordination Center, a federal computer-security center operated by Carnegie Mellon University, made a similar recommendation to the public earlier this year.

Internet Explorer, which is distributed free by the Microsoft Corporation, has more than 90 percent of the worldwide browser market. …

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