Virtual Communities I: Building the Technologies

Dateline: 11/24/97

Living Worlds logo Virtual worlds as gathering places, communities, playgrounds, fan-clubs, and tributes are coming. The technology necessary for distributed interoperable virtual worlds isn't quite there but is coming "real soon now". VRML as an extensible language for the representation of these worlds is being pushed towards this new cyber-horizon. In this weeks feature we will look at some of the technical foundations being built. In next week's Virtual Communities II, we will look at the types of prototype communities and environments being developed.

In the technical community, building the infrastructure, the two "big" efforts to create Distributed Virtual Environemtns or DVEs, are LivingWorlds and Open Communities. Of course creating a virtual environment isn't enough, you have to be able to populate the world with people, or virtual stand-ins, otherwise known as avatars. Some of the avatar work has been covered previously in "Humanoids Among Us." The major avatar efforts are Universal Avatars and the Humanoid Animation Working Group of the VRML Consortium. Inside of the Open Communites specification are the classes spAvatarInfo and spAvatar which are intended to support the implementation of Universal Avatars concepts. Open Communities provides the environment and an open API in which avatar builders can place their avatars. The Universal Avatars can keep their built-in behaviors inside of an Open Communities world. A good introduction to avatars can be found at the Avatar page written by Abbot Brush of IBM.

Living Worlds is being developed in the context of some long-standing goals developed by the early VRML community. These are (from the Living Worlds spec):

In the Living Worlds spec a key concept is the MUtech (pronounced mew-tech not moo-tech...unless you're from farm country). A MUtech is the main virtual community server. It is the place where all the avatars and syncronization necessary to let everyone share a consistent virtual space, takes place. According to the Living Worlds spec: Space is partitioned using three concepts, a World, Scene and Zone. A Zone the lowest level, i.e. smallest area, of these three is the "range of control of a MUtech". Different vendors supplying different MUtech with different application capabilities, such as electronic commerce, or games, will still be able to function in the larger distributed world. If you're really interested in all the complexity, and there is plenty of it, check out the Living Worlds spec.

Two key players in the creation of these virtual worlds are Sony and blaxxun interactive. Sony's Virtual Society on the Web page offers the Community Place browser and server. The blaxxun folks have the most robust collection of tools and offer the CCpro client and the blaxxun Community Server. Stay tuned more discussion of the worlds people are creating with these tools in next weeks issue, same web station, same web time.

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