One of the working groups in the Web3D Consortium is called Universal Media. Universal Media is sort of a fancy name for clip art, but this stuff is clip art on steroids. When I first heard of the effort I reacted with a major yawn. OK yeah so there will be collections of textures, sounds and objects...that's nice. Yawn.
Oh and by the way Universal Media will use URNs the never quite implemented mechanism declared by the World Wide Web Consortium on how to keep links permanently correct. The recommended practice document for the UMEL group on URN's is also available. Sure sure (I thought). Well wasn't I surprised when a couple of weeks ago some demos and announcements were made public.
It turns out that these folks have been darn busy. Led by working group chair Aaron Walsh, clearly a master of publicity, actual real work and code was produced. Our first clue was the announcement of a test demo. The folks at Shout3D, becoming major Web3D players these days, announced Universal Media versions of their infamous MOD characters.
First a quick backgrounder on the way Universal Media (UMEL) is supposed to work. As a user you must first download a whole bunch of textures, sounds and the objects to a special location on your computer or they can be on a CD-ROM with the material. When the VRML is requested rather then encountering a URL for the media the browser encounters a URN. The URN is interpreted and the media is sucked into the browser, locally if available, or remotely if needed. The demo versions require you to put the textures locally on your computer, it's a fairly large 2.3ish Mb download but just do it when you're ready to go out to lunch. Having the Universal Media material in a local cache is a feature, obviously the textures and sounds and stuff loads FAST. That tired excuse of "VRML is to large and slow to load" can go away. It's not a panacea but it definitely a step in the right direction.
So back to the new info. Along with the MOD demos, the Universal Media group has made a "Sneak Peek" collection of textures available. It's a VERY small sampling but gives you a good taste of what the full course meal will taste like.
Aside from the MOD demos there is another demo which is actually an entry to the "World Altering UMEL Contest." Enter content using UMEL and you can win GOOD STUFF ;-)
Finally one last sign of the success of this is the development of tools by other folks. Lauren Gauthier announce a: "just completed the first version of a Perl script which makes it easier to select Universal Media images and install them on Web3D worlds.What the script does is locate all of the images in a particular library directory, and display them on a single page (for now). You can click on any image to view the details as before. The interesting part is that URN, file paths, and URLs are automatically generated as well. So if you want to use any of the images you only need to copy and paste the codes directly into your world. This will also save lots of typing for those multi- value URLs fields. You can access this from http://www.officetowers.com/umel/ where I keep the Library Structure Work Sheet. Go down the page for the Textures categories. The textures now available in the sneak preview are hyperlinked. Clicking on these will achieve the above. As soon as we have more textures in the library the script will pick them up automatically.
Totally cool stuff! Clearly some great news tools and techniques or on the way both from the Web3D Consortium and the community. Who says VRML and Web3D is dead!!!
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