It may be known as cyberspace, but most of what's on the World Wide Web today looks no deeper than a sheet of paper.

That's going to change in a big way in the next year or two. New software from Microsoft Corp. and Netscape Communications Inc.--plus powerful new chips from Intel Corp. and Silicon Graphics Inc.--are going to help personal computers display rich, three-dimensional scenes. Fluid 3-D spaces will make the Web a more compelling visual medium, closer to TV. Using 3-D techniques, software developers will come up with new ways of organizing information--in rooms, on walls, in a village, on the surface of the globe--to make the location and relationship of data more obvious. Says Michael McCue, director of technology at Netscape: ``3-D is more natural. It adds to your ability to comprehend lots of information.''

MORE ROOM. Consider Xerox Corp.'s Visual Recall program. It helps search through a large collection of documents by representing them in a grid of icons stretching across a concave wall. Linear perspective makes the distant icons appear smaller, allowing more of them to show. Yet the few in front are large enough to reveal identifying data. Users scroll the grid left and right and then click on an icon to retrieve a document.

One 3-D development already widely used is virtual reality modeling language (VRML). A standard for displaying 3-D information on a Web page, it's an engaging way to help nontechies get somewhere in cyberspace. For example, a system called PhotoModeler from Eos Systems Inc. in Vancouver is being used by real estate brokers to show houses. Scanning in snapshots, they create a 3-D computer model of a house. Any computer user with a VRML browser can visit the site for a simulated walk in and around the house.

One way to make people more at home in cyberspace is to show them a three-dimensional environment where they can meet one another and roam. This is the idea behind Knowledgeland, a 3-D world for children being built by software maker Knowledge Adventure. The ambitious program will let kids represent themselves as cartoon figures and then meet, chat, and explore libraries, science projects, and various classrooms. That's the sort of development that could finally create a sense of space in cyberspace.

By John W. Verity in New York


Updated June 14, 1997 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1996, Bloomberg L.P.
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