Thursday, May 11, 2006

Croquet Proposes Web X.0: P2P, R/W, 3D

Nothing like a little alphabet soup to start the day... Croquet, a research platform that has escaped from the lab, sprung free by a startup called Qwaq, proposes to be "an operating system for the post-browser Internet". Nothing ambitious, mind you.

The focus of their post-browser net vision is not publishing, but collaboration, purportedly on a large scale. Intriguingly, its architecture is peer-to-peer, so end-users can build the Croquet web one node at a time. That is a Good Idea. Today's server-centric net tends to serve organizations well, and individuals rarely. MySpace and Blogspot are about the extent of the user-defined net, and they don't support much more than blather.

The Croquet user experience is a 3D universe of interlinked worlds; or perhaps interlinked apartments, as each world is more likely to be a set of rooms than landscapes. Clearly the stack of overlapping "windows" pioneered by PARC and first commercialized by Apple is a terrible way to organize or present information. The browser, with its hyperlinks and history deck, is far more sensible, and akin to the ubiquitous spiral-bound notebook. Croquet takes this idea into the third dimension.

But 3D conveys the feel of wandering around with a patch over one eye and a cheap scuba mask on your face; you can't experience realistic 3D without stereoscopic display and peripheral vision. I've not seen any research showing that 3D UI dramatically improves on 2D UI for ordinary tasks. 3D is hugely popular for gaming, so the technology works, but it hasn't migrated to more productive uses. What does 3D add to mostly-textual content? Think about a bookshelf: it's a 2D array of titles; grab one, open it, and you see a pair of 2D pages, in a stack.

Another potential stumbling block for Croquet is its apparent complexity. Perhaps this is simply due to the way the web site describes it, but it sounds like a bear to master as a programmer. You have to learn smalltalk, for starters, and then a mountain of APIs and paradigms. The wonderful thing about the web is how little you need to know to do useful things. Given time, the Croquet team may hide some of its complexity. But given its academic origins, that time could be a long one.

Robert Scoble got a demo recently. The Wikipedia article describes the grand vision and project history.

Personally, I'd like to see a 2D, P2P, Read/Write web for personal and small-team applications; based on SVG, and incorporating PC documents/apps. Hmm, that sounds familiar... Oh right, I'm writing it! It's called airWRX.

5 Comments:

At Friday, May 12, 2006 10:50:00 AM, Blogger phil jones said...

Of course.

The problem with 3D is that it's only useful for three things :

* hiding information eg. the monster is behind the door and you only see it when it jumps out. This is called "entertainment"

* beauty eg. Second Life or Entropia's luxury fantasy environments.

* a few, rare cases of visualization of 3D objects where the third dimension is really important. (Possibly visualization of certain molecules is like this.)

Most of the time, you don't want things hidden behind others. You want to navigate by moving your eye across the screen (or where there isn't enough screen-real-estate, to click on well labeled links to other places.)

I think Croquet could be a success if it tries to be an open, non-commercial Second Life without the subscription fees. But I still don't know what else it might be for.

 
At Friday, May 12, 2006 3:44:00 PM, Blogger Liam said...

I think they're trying to tap the brain's spacial awareness capacity, e.g. when you put something down, you usually remember where you put it. It'd be interesting to study whether there's a similar capacity among a large deck of 2D pages.

I think 3D UI could work if the user is willing to go all the way, which entails a stereo-optic display. Today, that amounts to a very expensive scuba mask. In a decade, that might be a feature of high-end eyeglasses.

The alternative to that VR scenario is to leverage ordinary objects in the real world as controllers & viewers for objects in info-space. I believe that approach has more near-term promise, and may ultimately prove more powerful as well.

 
At Friday, May 19, 2006 12:20:00 PM, Blogger Tim said...

I'm with you, and I think the bookcase analogy (even if extended to include a desk - 2D surface with [hopefully] neat stacks of 2D objects) is the world where information currently works.

As to does spatial memory work in such a 2D+ environment, well I find books in my cases and papers in my stacks... Don't you?

 
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