Friday, February 09, 2007

Is VRML Dead? Part I

We're having a contentious debate on the X3D and VRML lists. As usual and not surprisingly to my friends, I'm contending. Loudly as always. This blog has two parts.

Is VRML Dead? Well... yeah.


Despite the fact that you and I still use it to build, in point of fact of continued features evolution or market uptake, or standardization, it is "really quite sincerely dead" to quote the coroner.

It has been replaced by X3D, the next generation. It lives on in the largesse of the browser vendors who continue to support its nodes in their products but who aren't adding any features that make it into the official ISO standard because, well, that version of the standard is now obsolete. It is generally considered bad to work on obsolete technology unless you happen to be NASA who can't afford to replace a Shuttle every year because the production lines shut down two decades ago, or the guys who paint the Eiffel Tower and fix rusted bolts and the like (where do they get those bolts now?)

Is X3D just dressed up VRML? Someone else can work that rant. But it is certainly the case that it isn't VRML. Casual inspection will reveal that. One can make the case that X3D isn't an improvement. I think that would be on very thin ice.

Worse, VRML is obnoxiously dead, deliberately dead, and celebrated dead. Just plain old quit breathing dead, autopsied and signed out to the coroner dead. How do we know? Well, the wisdom of the crowds thing again. We keep reading about the demise on the web. Time to accept it, yes?

Here are some expert quotes. The first is from a comment on Ajax3D.

Here's what a rather useful white paper on the subject by Tony Parisi, one of the pioneers of the by-now antediluvian VRML standard has to say: ..."

Wow Dude. If I had to do it without a dictionary, I'm not sure I could spell 'antediluvian'. Is that the same as "not merely dead"?

We are celebrating the 10th anniversary of VRML... but, is VRML dead?
We refer to the people who practice the art of VRML as furry vermals. VRML was developed to make moving CAD files easier. Some people with great visions, (perhaps too much) imagination, and seemingly unlimited energies pushed VRML into the realm of virtual reality and from there into web 3D. It never satisfied any of those visions and a lot of hearts and wallets were broken. VRML still isn't dead, but then neither is Fortran. Things don't seem to die in this industry. But neither Fortran or VRML are mainstream or considered as a viable vehicle for anything any more. And I know this will bring out of the wood work and from under the rocks all those VRML lovers who still toil away at proving what magnificent thing VRML is, or will be with the next release that is.

Got that last bit right, Jon.

Raph Koster's comment about the yawning reception in the VRML community to the Metaverse Summit (you can hear the trumpets and the choirs of angels for that one) are fatal. You should read the attached comments as well. Note that Raph is a 'serious' thinker and was a chief designer of entertainment at Sony, a mover in the Ultima game and so on, so we have to take him very seriously:

I'll be blunt: there are next to no important things being done in terms of online virtual worlds using VRML, and I don't know any significant players in the field who use VRML. The people with practical experience avoid it like the plague. Give up already on VRML!

Ok Raph, don't get excited. You'll get your turn at the podium again.

This one is good reading because it takes all groups to task for not noticing what the cultures have to offer to each other:

Note the quote though:

... for young people, or newly-enabled and tekkified old people, especially women and non-Americans who have taken to SL by leaps and bounds, these old fuddy-duddy concerns like 'skepticism triggered by the historical failure of things like LambdaMOO or VRML' don't compute. What the hell is LambadaMOO? I never heard of it until I branched out from SL into geek-world; I'm certain I wouldn't recognize VRML if it bit me in the ass; but I have a full and engaging Second Life.

So yeah, there is quite a bit of us vs them out there. You have to decide if you care. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I was bitten in the ass by a furry vermal once. It hurt. A lot.

This one takes the whole 3D market to task and uses VRML as the whipping horse because apparently this fellow didn't get his VRML cookie when they were plentiful on the freebies table of Web 1.0:

Note the repeating theme here and in the comments: 3D Good; VRML Failure; let's not do VRML again. We won't. As the coroner I must confer that I've thoroughly examined her.

If maps from these next guys load as badly as their Flashy web page, I gotta wonder about their chops in geospatial:

Along similar lines, what happened to VRML? Remember when Microsoft even had their own VRML browser, World View, and included it with Internet Explorer (3.0, I think)? Many of these 3D visualization tools seem to hold so much promise for the geospatial community. A new one blossoms every few years and then just wilts on the vine. Is it some technical barrier that they run up against, or just lack of interest?"

I lost the URL for that one. Probably a merciful forgetting given the load time.

I actually like this article from Prokovsky:

The comments are great too.

Then from someone who likes pasta and who's rants on this topic are better than mine and quite a bit more opaque:

9. VRML blew it. Will there be a successor spatiality to HTML? Of course there are stuff like that, especially in the GIS world + also in the open cartography community there are already few instances: annotating space with metadata; about building semantic models of places; about exchanging geospatial data in RDF, what Jo Walsh does a simple vocabulary for describing physical spaces and the connections between them there is also PML: Psychogeographical Markup Language:

PML is a unified system to capture meaningful psychogeographical [meta]data about spaces which can be used to compose psychogeograms: diagrammatic representations of psychogeographically experienced space.

Scary stuff that psychogeographic markup. It must be awesome for Halloween candy trail planning.

From Slashdot:

Ten years ago i was working in the virtual reality field. People swore we would have a 3D web in ten years ten years ago. Anyone remember VRML?"

No one serious but we forgot about ADA too. Oh wait; the government still pays very high rates for ADA programmers. Nevermind. The Shaggy Dog Story of all programming languages is still healthy and living at Fort Meade.

From one of the Electric Sheep blogs, a fun mention of two of our VRML regulars with a funny anecdote:

I'm excited about one of our new presenters in the line-up (we'll have a number of short talks spark conversation). You can't talk about the metaverse space without looking back over VRML, an early attempt to create a 3D standard on the Web that famously tanked. Tony Parisi who helped create and evangelize VRML back in 1994 will be joining us to talk about what happened there and what he learned, as well as look forward to his new adventures with Media Machines.

Poor Tony. Being antediluvian must be a helluva comedown from being antidisestablishmententarian for so many years in Internet Time.

There are more quotes. You find most of them by typing "VRML Raph Koster" into the Google search box, so as I say, he is some kind of strange attractor for the funeral seating arrangments, but these put the eulogies in perspective.

For all the protests coming out of Europe on this topic, you Frenchies need to understand that you may not believe what is going on here, but this is what the Consortium reps have to face when they discuss 3D On The Web. That they are succeeding in spite of it testifies to their commitment to this technology and their sheer tenacity because this must be no fun at all.

After all, no one wants to be the coroner. On to part II...

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