3D chat is the reason VRML97 still lives. For some people, the technology is a passion and a tool. For the VRMLers, the dream is cyberspace and that dream gives the builders a passion to build. VRML collects only some 3D graphics artists, but it collects a very dedicated group of worldbuilders.
And boy, can these people build. Not just game worlds, but parks you want to walk in, forests with tree houses that look out over a sea of islands floating past in the air, malls, museums, stores, exotic secret hideaways by a sea of green and a great big moon, with the sounds of passion in the air. People go there together and enjoy the scenery. It is as if TV let you choose a location, and you can go be with whoever is there and talk about whatever you like.
Quite a dream really.
And wow! They've done it. Those worlds are out there to be explored courtesy of the worldbuilders that just would not give up on their vision. Gibsonian cyberspace was not about the power of the dream, it was about the willingness to dream together, to be together in a dream. Presence.
It is the powerful magic of not being alone.
In the last few years, quite under the radar of the snifly press and the powerful pundits, VRML found its niche: 3D chat. The dream of the 3D junkie is to be able to communicate in a natural language of the humans: bodily gesture and motion in a local space. While the database designers have sought metaphors for tables and rows that store numbers for business, the worldbuilders worked to create environments and objects that resemble what the tables and rows only count and remember.
Human bodily gestures convey emotion, and therefore entangle the viewer. By enabling the avatar in the database, the human viewer intuits intimacy. The human craves intimacy.
So where some dismiss this use of VRML, claiming 3D chat is a waste of bandwidth, I ask you, have you tried it?
1) It does work as a collaborative space. The use of media types for shared texts combined with the 3D avatar and synth-enabled chat provides sufficient eyeball bandwidth to carry on a real time event. Some say chat is sufficient. I dispute that. Why? Again, the gestures of the avatar provide sufficient onset cues to entangle the human in the conversation emotionally. The chat text keeps them focused if they practice the protocol needed for the chat event. To wit: in a meeting stick to meeting topics and follow the leader. In the square, it's your party.
2) As collaborative spaces go, this is very cheap server technology. A combination of this and RSS would go a long ways toward being an interesting dispatch system given the right document types. Given more online integrated editors, it becomes a cheap 3D library of reusable integratible types. Standards have their benefits. The game industry may not need them, but the non-game industry needs them badly to get costs in line with benefits.
3) The claim that the media is data-costly was true. However, lidar mapping, aerial mapping, and other means of getting that data both in geo-GPS form and in the neartime sampled singals are completely adequate to get resolution in a usable form of reality. It is a cheap means to provide a fused view system of the feeds.
4) Immersive 3D space does not vanish given loss of real-time sensors. Given near time fidelity, presence is simulable.
5) The key term is presence. Creating presence is the secret to command and control.
3D representation enables the UI designer to lose fidelity while clarifying intent, thus allowing the human to focus on more objects even if direct access to available details is slowed. Presence is not the absence of fidelity; it is the fidelity of what is left. Real time 3D cues organize the mind spatially and temporally. Spatial and temporal components couple to the signs expressed in 3D to enhance attention.
Attention is presence.
The second reason is simpler: Joy. The VRMLers build worlds they want to be in, worlds in which the language they want to speak and see, the language of smile, wave, bow, point, flip, turn, fly, walk, jump to, and beyond, the repetoire of human movement in space and time, are performed. If the great Wizards don't get it yet, the VRMLers do: human expression is enjoyed. Add that to chat, and you get a nicely coupled system.
Oh, yes, and the best reason VRML lives:
6) In VRML chat, if you don't like your looks at the meeting, you can buy or build a better body for the next one.