This world, extended

In the middle of interesting article about criminal misbehavior by a participant in an online game, Clay Shirky has an intriguing insight about online interaction.
MUDs and MOOs — text-based virtual worlds — were common early genres of online interaction. Prophets and business people extrapolated that future online interaction would be much like these virtual worlds, but with sound and color and 3D. It wasn’t that long ago. Remember the early online malls with pictures of buildings and streets?

My label for this was the Whole Worlds hypothesis

7 thoughts on “This world, extended”

  1. What is this “mystery” you speak of? 🙂 The “3D” we’re used to – the real world – is slow and inefficient, and ironically, due to its increased dimensional capacity, more restrictive in many ways.
    Fortunately, our brain doesn’t (so much) work in such ways. Information is – for the most part – instantly accessible, and stored in pretty abstract, freeflowing ways. In coding terms, “processing” in the real world is like trying to find a particular item in a 3-dimensional array – you have to find/know where something is *and* then get to it, whereas processing in the brain seems to act more like a hashtable, or at least an extremely-linked graph – things are tied together within it semantically rather than geographically.
    The last Nielsen quote above (“3d is confusing because the space being modeled has more than three dimensions”) could also be considered in inverse. 3d is confusing because the space being modeled has *one* (or even, perhaps, no) dimension, and tring to extrapolate it into a 3d world adds unnecessary complexity.
    I think there *could* be some… “interesting” aspects to business-related 3d worlds. For instance, I’d like to see an interface that represented my *focus of attention* in 3d terms, along with others. By using, say, proximity (of someone’s avatar to mine) as a measure of how related our current activities are (e.g. 2 people coding may be close together), and some kind of directional aspect (e.g. how much are people facing me) to indicate how “available” people are (how much they’re willing to break from their activity and talk), I think you could get some useful communication ideas emerging.
    But maybe you could do that with a 2D list, as well…

  2. The proximity idea is cool. Typical recommendation engines are focused on individuals. It would be interesting to see current and prospective links based on shared activity.
    The UI ideas that suggest themselves for that are textual and 2.x d graphical (a flat space, using color and/or size to show proximity).
    More ideas on this in a new post.

  3. Also, moving 3d images invoke the parts of our brains dealing with motor control and balance. In a game, this is exciting – it stimulates a feeling of physical action even when the gamer is sitting in a chair moving fingers.
    In simulations of activities requiring motion and excitement — flying a plane, emergency response — this simulated physical engagement is useful.
    In a social environment, it’s distracting. For analytical tasks, it’s distracting unless the 3d is very well-designed and well-abstracted.
    So, a 3d model of a body part or chemical structure is well-abstracted, removing irrelevant detail. The ability to move the object, and engage the balance/motion parts of the brain, helps to understand.
    But a 3d model of a grocery store is poorly abstracted, adding spacial detail about shelf height that’s irrelevant to choosing one’s groceries.

  4. There seems to be a rift between what a 3D interface is for.
    On the one hand, they could be extremely useful for merely presenting information. On the other, traditional approaches have meant that they are poor to navigate by. (That’s not to say that navigation within a 3D environment must inherently be difficult.)
    2 questions spring to mind…
    1. Are there certain “groups” of information that would benefit from having a 3D representation rather than a 2D/1D one? I think this also entails thinking differently about how we transition between “sets” of information – i.e. should we use a web-like “linked page” system if we have the extra dimension?
    2. Are 2D working environments more efficient to use because our traditional inputs and interfaces (e.g. the keyboard) are designed for 2D environments? How popular, say, would 3D methods become if we had a). semantically-driven, usably-accurate speech recognition, and b). more touch screen technology, so that we could point to where we want to navigate to rather than use clunky mouse/keyboard interfaces?

  5. Hum, just noticed that question 2 pretty much mirrors Nielsen’s first two points regarding difficulty. Still, more touch screens would be cool…
    Remember, remember: Read article first, drink coffee and comment later.

  6. I think text language is much more mature and agreed-upon than visual language. Short learning curves and immediate “productivity enhancement” (not sure I like that term) are paramount in the business environment, which pretty much forces us to bootstrap from the almost-universal solvent that is text.
    But I’m not betting that the interfaces of 20 years hence won’t make more efficient use of our 3d perception capabilities. (That interface in Minority Report was just wicked.)

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