“We will see a 3D web in the next five years, there’s no doubt in my mind about that, Drax listeners you heard it hear first” – Tony Parisi on The Drax Files Radio Hour Episode 26.
So opens the July 4th edition of The Drax Files Radio Hour. I should note at this point that Tony Parisi, like a lot of 3D web enthusiasts, always predicts that the 3D web will be here in five years time but you have to admire his enthusiasm. I should also note that this show was produced and published before Germany beat France in the World Cup quarter finals, so Draxtor had not been near any Paulaner at this stage, whether that’s still the case I cannot verify.
Tony Parisi is a co-creator of Virtual Reality Markup Language (VRML) and has also penned books on WebGL as well as being a founder of Vivaty, more on that later. The interview itself is yet another excellent production from Draxtor Despres, coming in at around 42 minutes it packs a lot in. The core of the interview centres around the concepts raised in a blog post from Tony Parisi back in June : Virtually Anywhere. This post argues that VR applications using devices such as Oculus Rift should not be looking to be part of downloads and walled gardens, they should be integrated within the web using technologies such as WebGL, CSS3 and HTML5. The blog post is well worth reading.
However let’s rewind a little, Tony talks of his early work with VRML and also points out the reasons why he feels that it didn’t quite take off. VRML came at a time when the web was in its infancy in terms of mainstream acceptance. VRML was powerful, possibly a little too powerful because to use it to its full potential back then would have required decent bandwidth and decent computing power. Now at this point you may think “Patience young Padawan, Patience“. However the computing world isn’t known for its patience and at a time when the 2D web was exploding, people didn’t quite have the patience to wait for the VRML revolution. Indeed plenty of people were happily trying to creating garish Geocities sites for the 2D web, 3D web concepts were a long way off widespread acceptance.
The part of the interview where Tony talks of Vivaty is interesting in many ways and it really resonated with me. There were arguments at Vivaty as to whether they should try and appeal to Second Life users, those who created content and spent a lot of time in Second Life spending money in particular. However others thought this market was, to paraphrase, a little weird. Tony does not say this, but that’s what it seemed to amount to. Those people felt there was larger mainstream market to attract that would prefer not to be associated with Second Life style users. Now before we all turn our noses up, let’s remember that this came in the period around and after Second Life was at the top of the hype cycle, Anshe Chung was on the cover of Newsweek and virtual worlds seemed to be the place to be. We should also remember that Linden Lab themselves seemed to be having exactly the same debate. Philip Rosedale had been quoted as saying : “Bad weather, oppressive regimes, poor economic conditions — that’s what makes an SL user” as well as saying “I estimate we’re at 1 percent of total use in 5-10 years“, suggesting a more mainstream market was there for the taking.
Mitch Kapor rubbed Second Life users up the wrong way with his SL5B speech when he said : “The pioneer era in Second Life is beginning to draw to a close. It has been five years and we are at the beginning of a transition and I think it is an irrevocable transition“. Some users, quite possibly incorrectly, felt that this was a statement that Linden Lab did not want their current users, that they were chasing that elusive mainstream audience.
Another point that Tony raises in his interview is the problem of the download. This is an ongoing issue that puzzles some of us. In terms of Second Life, not long back they improved the download speed and install of the client via Project zipper. This baffled me somewhat as the download and install speed of the Second Life client has never seemed to be an issue. However Tony points out that with their product, people would signup and then bail before downloading the plugin, as many as 75% would do this. I imagine Second Life has similar stats but what’s interesting is that Tony then says, once they moved to Flash and therefore eliminated the issue of a download, those stats were turned on their head, 70-75% tried it out. However by this time something else was a hot topic, Facebook games and therefore who wanted to invest in a 3D style world? The timing was again all wrong.
I’m not going to go into everything that was said in the interview, that would be somewhat unfair to Draxtor Despres and Tony Parisi as I’ll probably misquote or come to the wrong conclusion. However I will touch upon a couple more issues. The first is The Oculus Rift and the issue that keeps coming up time and again. Tony talks about Human Computer Interface (HCI) issues. He comments that one of the first things that happens when you put on an Oculus Rift headset is that you need guidance in finding the keyboard. Tony’s advice is very similar to that of Loki Eliot, use a game controller. However this means changing our expectations and experiences, this is inevitable as technology changes of course.
Finally I’ll mention the work going on via concepts such as WebGL to bring native support to web browsers for devices like Oculus Rift. This has the potential to knock down those walled gardens and create a metaverse in a technology we are already widely exposed to. Tony praises the work of Vlad Vukićević, who apparently believes the metaverse is already here, but it has a 2D interface. Snow Crash it is not.
There’s a lot more in the interview, it’s really worth a listen. The perspective of a more open 3D virtual reality experience compared to the walled garden offering is a debate that is likely to go on for a lot more than five years. I can see the pro’s and cons of both sides of this fence but moving forward, more immersive VR experiences will be manifesting themselves, whether it’s Tony Parisi, Linden Lab or a combination of their ideas and concepts, only time will tell but it looks like we’re in for an exciting ride.