William Gibson's Neuromancer depicts the web as "The Matrix" (as does a much more commercial film by the same name), yet Gibson never owned a computer when he wrote the book - on a typewriter.

Neal Stephenson (in Snowcrash - another great book) refers to the web as the Metaverse - much like Gibson, both set in times around now, yet VRML enhanced with JAVA is the closest representation we have. What we are left with is still a relatively slow system with no standard hardware and no standard multiuser interface to suit a consumer level.

The Web3D family of specs has traveled a rocky road over the last few years, with all standards falling short of what was expected from users - utopia on a shoestring. As a result, many proprietry formats have surfaced, offering different strengths ranging from multiuser capabilities to the direct use of 3D accelerated hardware. Unfortunately, none have given us the ability to pop on some sort of "trodes" (Neuromancer) or glasses (Count Zero - another Gibson creation) that immerse us in a matrix/3d web where we can browse the internet or communicate with others in the matrix, so we wait.

Long term (say 3-5 years) one would hope hardware of this type will be introduced to wireless internet devices - Transmeta and many others are beginning to release microprocessors that run very fast at very low temperatures, allowing for incorporation into much smaller equipment.

The X3D standard replaced VRML in 2001 in an effort to get closer to an open international standard for Web3D that could be submitted to ISO - the X3D standard page linked above explains this in more depth.

The reason I've babbled like a brook about conceptual 3D rather than the real thing is Web3D is really still in it's infancy, with the concepts above far in the future - VRML is still really crappy down here on earth.. However - there is hope! The Web3D X3D Repository is full of cool tools to start making X3D content now...

Some of the current applicatons I'm considering:

To utilise proximity sensors to enable caching of VRML data through building the world in separate .WRL files, expanding only as far as the current field of view - possibly even overlapping in the current view. This should allow for reduced polygon counts in each file, which, in turn, should speed up complex worlds.

A VRML file manager with direct access to remote storage, allowing for a platform independant, virtual computer which can be quickly set up on any JAVA enabled machine using 1 x 1.44Mb floppy disk.

JAVA VRML browser & world builder for use as a data track on audio CDs, or as a high tech diary through the wonders of revision management principles.

A VRML world in which professional DJs can perform live with avatars, exploiting the ability for pitch control in VRML

I am using this area as a central scrapbook of links to my readings in this field, although my primary source is
"The VRML 2.0 Handbook" published by Silicon Graphics.

SGI / Cosmo Software
About.com's VRML area has tonnes of links to VRML worlds.
The X3D/Web3D Repository - Nice layout - good place to start learning.
The VRML Web Ring - Take a surf around and see what's up in VRML development
A list of VRML worlds and pages

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