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.