I am currently building a browser based on Mosaic which uses a "console" or
"dashboard" metaphor for browsing and navigating info-space. This means
things like constrained image-viewing windows, the ability to play or store
sounds and to replay them at the touch of a button instead of having to
reload them, a "port" for mpeg movies and so on. I am exploring strategies
for having these application windows communicate with the main browsing agent
so that their displays will be updated, as well as issues of user
configurability (how many GIFs do I get to stack up) vs. resources.
My design notes call for the browser to essentially have its own mini-API so
that other display agents can be used by the browser and "assigned" their
position and constraints in console-space. Since the target application of
the browser is browsing a virtual environment comprised of many different
data types, I am tackling issues ranging from protocol (how does my server
tell all the apps at once which data files to load) to user interface (what
happens to the mpeg movie that came with the last space when we move into a
new space-- does the screen blank out, is this configurable, etc).
As soon as I have a formal design spec and something of a prototype I plan to
throw it to the wolve, err, list members and see what y'all think of it.
The browser will be public-domain freeware in the manner of Mosaic, and in
fact the initial versions will have significant chunks of Mosaic code in them
and thus be bound by the NCSA copyleft terms as well as standard ones. I
have discussed this briefly with Marc A, BTW, to determine the status of the
code. I'll append the faq/announcement for the Virtual City(tm) Network to
this post, as that is the environment that the browser is being designed for.
Anyone else doing similar work? Would like to share ideas, etc. A
couple of items not mentioned above are a) looks like Tcl/Tk is what
I'll be implementing this in and b) I'm putting in the concept of
encrypted streams which are decrypted by the client ala Kerberos and c)
I'm planning on supporting international character sets (which system,
NB: PGP info misleading, rev 1.0.1 to follow shortly, that's what
posting a faq at 3am gets you...
VIRTUAL CITY (TM) NETWORK FAQ, REV 1.0
SO WHAT EXACTLY IS THE VIRTUAL CITY (tm) NETWORK?
The Virtual City(tm) Network is an ambitious Networked Virtual Reality
Infrastructure which will link current Internet information technology
with the emerging capabilities of on-line virtual reality
environments. Using existing software which implements shared,
interactive virtual spaces we will extend the paradigm of the FreeNet
community into virtual reality by creating online cities and
communities in which people may share text, graphics, and multimedia
in a cooperative real-time environment. These online communities will
be able to make use of cutting edge tools such as network
conferencing, collaboration & visualization tools, multimedia
electronic mail, online access to government data, networked library
catalogs & facilities, electronic books online and Internet-accessible
public data repositories. The Virtual City(tm) Network will also be a
proving ground for privacy technologies such as public key
cryptography, PGP, and Digital Cash(tm).
DIDN'T YOU RUN AN AD IN _WIRED_ RECENTLY?
NO. And again, No. The Virtual City (tm) Network is the brainchild
of one M. Strata Rose, longtime net.lurker and sometime visionary, who
has been developing the concept since roughly June 1992. I started
serious feasibility exploration in December of '92 and have been on
track on a timeline which formally started in May '93. The folks who
put an ad in _WIRED_ are Objective Communications of Illinois.
Virtual City (tm) is a trademark of M. Strata Rose and VirtualNet
(currently undergoing formal incorporation). We are registered with
the NIC as VIRTUAL.NET and VIRTUAL-CITY.COM.
OH, COME ON-- TRADEMARKING THE PHRASE "VIRTUAL CITY"?
The concept of creating virtual communities in a Mush/MUD/MOO
environment has been kicking around for many years, and quite a bit of
work has been done by a great many people. However, there is a
particular on-line public access service concept which I call the
Virtual City (tm) Network. As it says in the terrifying amount of
paperwork required to file a trademark, "this application in no way
attempts to restrict the usage of the terms 'virtual' or 'city',
merely their usage in conjunction where applicable to services in this
class". Or something highly similar but in stricter legalese, as per
WELL, HOW IS YOUR "VIRTUAL CITY (tm) NETWORK" DIFFERENT
FROM THEIR "VIRTUAL CITY"?
Obviously there is a limit to the extent to which I can comment, as
both of our offerings seem to be in a pre-release state. However, a
brief telephone conversation with an individual at Objective
Communications indicated some important differences:
1) The Virtual City (tm) Network will be free for individuals to
access; charges will only be levied on entities attempting to conduct
profitable business activities. My understanding is that Objective
plans to charge fees at all levels of participation in their service.
2) The Virtual City (tm) Network has been designed for multimedia and
information service access from the ground up. My understanding is
that Objective's service is text-only and the gentleman on the phone
indicated that they had no current plans to expand it to multimedia.
3) VirtualNet incorporates both a for-profit corporation and a
not-for-profit research arm. One of our primary goals for the Virtual
City(tm) Network is to take the Cleveland FreeNet model into virtual
space. The Virtual City (tm) Metropolitan Transit Authority, VCMTA,
is being designed concurrently as an object transport model between
instantiations of various Virtual City (tm) Sites. We will be
offering templates for instantiations of our city model to be used by
communities and organizations, with a true distributed model allowing
users and information to flow freely throughout the Virtual City (tm)
We are attempting to build an expandable, scalable piece of Internet
infrastructure that will support a rich model of growth and
self-determination as well as support research on virtual communities
and cyberspaces in general. Look for abstracts, research papers,
RFC's and API's from us in the coming year.
NO KIDDING. TELL ME MORE.
One of my design goals in building the Virtual City(tm) Network is to
challenge people's assumptions about "the real world" versus "the
virtual world"; many if not most of people's interactions today
take place in a virtual world which has been largely co-opted by the
real world. Newspapers, television, and radio are all prime
examples-- most of these rely on mental constructions based on
primarily verbal input or on finely crafted presentations which have
little to do with "reality", yet few people consider to what degree
these omnipresent factors constitute much of their information flow.
A wonderful example is the Android Sisters' "Money" (radioplay "Ruby",
ZBS Productions). The Sisters hold up two items, described as two
pieces of paper, to a "viewer" and ask for her description. Her
reply, "well, one is a piece of paper, but the other is money" elicits
the ruefully exasperated reply "two pieces of paper!". The well-made
point is that people's cognitive mappings have become so rigidly
codified that they view their world through highly constrained filters
to the point of shutting out other options.
In the Virtual City(tm) Network, the line between the real and the
virtual has the inherent ability to be deliberately blurred.
Information from "the real world" can be presented as often as
possible in a matter of fact way. I hope to feature several space
station designs from the cutting edge of the aerospace industry, and
the reported weather in the outdoor sections of the city will come
from weather data live from local feeds, updated to the San Mateo
Bridge area, the putative location of the site. Our virtual
coffeehouses will tie into Internet game servers of various sorts and
we are investigating links to real-world coffeehouses via terminals
in the field. Imagine chatting on a virtual terminal via the Internet
to folks on real terminals in coffeehouses. Now who's real and who's
OKAY, WHAT'S YOUR TECHNOLOGY BASE?
We are currently using LambdaMOO, an object-oriented virtual
environment designed at Xerox PARC. Instantiations of LambdaMOO are
already being used to provide virtual spaces in which researchers,
educators, and interested folks can meet and interact online, such as
MIT Media Lab's "MediaMOO", "JaysHouseMOO". the original "LambdaMOO"
and a growing plethora of others. Various university and individual
projects are adding the capability to access certain Internet
information resources such as the "archie" FTP search engine and
University of Minnesota's Internet Gopher browser [JaysHouse MOO].
Xerox PARC is working on a project called "AstroVR" in which
extensions to the text-based MOO software allow astrophysicists to
share graphical images and data. The PARC team is also working on
MBONE extensions to LambdaMOO; these extensions will allow LambdaMOO
users to use the Multicast Backbone to do real-time audio and video
conferencing using tools which are being developed concurrently by the
greater networking community. We are working on extensions which will
combine the functionality of NCSA's Mosaic information browser with
the virtual environment capabilities of LambdaMOO.
Mosaic is a hypertext browser through which individuals may access
various Internet services such as World Wide Web, Gopher, WAIS, and
archie. The World Wide Web in particular uses a format called HTML
(HyperText Markup Language) to create documents which can access other
documents with a single mouse click from the browser. We are adding
the ability for SGML or HTML documents to be valid MOO objects; this
single extension opens up a significant range of possibilities which
represent needed interconnectivity between the MOO environment and the
wider world of Internet information. Virtual spaces in the MOO can
then lead directly to an information cache, and information browsers
on the Internet can interact with MOO spaces as well.
This is just the beginning. In particular, the Virtual City (tm)
Network is being designed to allow encapsulation of other information
formats and explicit handoff to both public and proprietary
information servers. Our model is very similar to the one which NCSA
developed with Mosaic. You interact with our virtual spaces using
custom clients or browsers which can invoke various service handlers
or interaction programs on your host machine. Just as Mosaic will
bring up a GIF viewer when you reference a GIF file, the Virtual City
(tm) browser could invoke Virtus Walkthrough (tm Virtus) or the BRL-CAD
environment on a virtual space. You might enter a virtual space with
encapsulated or referenced data available in several formats that your
client or browser could handle.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
Ah, this is one of the really great parts-- if we can hand you off to
some other viewer or program or even another server, then the Virtual
City (tm) Network is truly expandable and extensible. We will be able
to offer services that no one has even thought of yet as long as they
run over the Internet infrastructure (ie, TCP/IP or something that can
encapsulate itself in it). The Virtual City (tm) Network will grow
along with virtual reality and internet information technology, since
new services can be accessed in a plug-and-play fashion. What we're
trying to do here is essentially spawn a meta-infrastructure context
in which to tie together highly varied services. This is also where
VCMTA comes in.
VCMTA, the Virtual City(tm) Metropolitan Transit Authority, will be
developed concurrently. This facility will provide authentication
services for moving database objects between servers on different
hosts, as well as implementing state-of-the-art privacy enhancements
for secure communication & transactions. VCMTA will allow us to
network instances of the Virtual City (tm) Template together and allow
people to "move" between them in one ever-growing virtual space.
We realize that there are hard problems to solve in building any sort
of object transport facility; however, our philosophy is that we can't
work miracles but can make something that works, is customizable and
configurable, and will make most people happy.
Obviously you can't "move" objects, however you can build objects
which rely on a core object library, are "registered" with VCMTA, and
follow certain rules as to their behavior on other servers and in
other conditions. The nature of our distributed architecture already
means that resources you access are not necessarily on the VC server,
this is the logical next step.
WELL THIS IS ALL VERY NICE, BUT I DON'T PROGRAM AT ALL SO I
PROBABLY WON'T BE ABLE TO USE IT MUCH.
Current implementations of MOOs and MUDS require that users be able to
program at a fairly sophisticated level in order to enjoy the full
power of MOO/MUD environments, especially in constructing new objects.
We feel that this encourages "second-class citizen" status for those
virtual citizens who cannot or will not learn to program proficiently.
Accordingly, the Virtual City(tm) Network is being designed with
virtual storehouses of objects which can be drawn from and user
friendly front-ends with which to customize those objects to create
personalized and useful virtual spaces. The full power of the MOO
internal programming language will still be available to those who
care to use it, but those who have neither the time nor desire to do
so will be able to interact as fully as the programming hoi-polloi.
As part of this effort, we are designing interactive front-ends to
interface with the storehouses of objects and handle simple
customization. Certain "city services" such as phones, chat lines,
radios, gopher slates, etc will be available as well as common objects
(and unusual ones!) from various individuals. By the way, if you
register an object for public use and it passes the Virtual City (tm)
Architectural Board (no Trojan horses or duds, please!), it no longer
counts against your quota. Keen, eh?
THIS IS STARTING TO SOUND PRETTY COOL. ARE YOU SURE IT'S
There will be no charge for private individuals to access the Network
and to engage in building and programming activities (up to a generous
initial quota, as in most other MOOs or MUDs). Non- profit and
government organizations will be allocated space at no charge in the
Virtual City(tm) Marketplace, Business District, and other public
areas. Cultural attractions such as art galleries, museums, and music
halls are placed throughout the Virtual City(tm) Network; space in
these attractions will be donated to artists and community projects to
publicize their work. The several museums will feature examples of
the growing number of online exhibits such as the Library of Congress'
current Vatican Project.
Corporations and other for-profit entities may be charged membership
fees on a monthly basis, as well as rent for virtual spaces in which
to transact business. Our basic paradigm is that if you're in the
Virtual City (tm) Network to generate professional profitable activity
then you should pay a fee to do so. Ie., the customary net.forsale or
net.jobs type of stuff is just fine, whereas setting up a virtual
office in which to run a real-time on-line consulting business would
require paying rent. Arrangements can be made on a rental or
percentage basis, or both.
We are very interested in supporting subscription-based services where
subscribers are allowed access to custom objects or facilities. This
can be a very economical way to do rich text or multimedia electronic
publishing in a small-press model, or provide specialized databases or
services at a modest cost to subscribers.
WHAT SORT OF FACILITIES ARE YOU PLANNING?
In addition to those mentioned above, we will have all the standard
amenities-- Alexandria, the Virtual Library, a business district,
arcade and game areas, residential streets, a campus area where
several interesting projects are being designed, transit facilities,
and so on. We're choosing to leave MBONE facilities out on this pass
due to bandwidth considerations; however, we plan on supporting such
diverse applications and protocols as Netjam MIDI, CUSeeMe network
video conferencing, various whiteboard tools, IRC with local client
enhancements, connections to other MOOs/MUDS, NCSA & BRL-CAD
visualization environments, group collaboration tools, interactive
game servers, Internet Talk Radio, etc. We're exploring support for
proprietary and vendor environments as well, such as Autodesk, Virtus,
SGI, and other virtual reality software interfaces.
We also have several original-design projects up our virtual sleeves
such as the Virtual Coffeehouses, the Twilight Lands where
storytellers roam the campfires, the UpAbove and DownBelow space and
marine research station simulators, a Virtual Physics Lab, and so on.
Not to mention the Virtual City (tm) Marketplace, Information Center,
and On-Line Technical Support Center where you can sell your products
or services with minimal overhead and rely on our expertise to deliver
your information to the Internet community.
WOW, I'M CONVINCED. HOW DO I LOG ON?
We're terribly sorry, but you can't log in quite yet. We will be
opening the database to key implementors once we finish the C
modifications to the LambdaMOO server and to the LambdaCore. We had
planned a general announcement in mid to late November, but
circumstances required otherwise. We are taking lists of pre-
registrants, though. Send email to "firstname.lastname@example.org" with pertinent
info: your name, your requested character name, and a short blurb
which will become your initial description. Oh yes, and your Public
Don't have one? Tsk, tsk, they're a good thing to have in general; go
out and connect to a public key server and get yourself a key-- we'll
send out your initial password encrypted to you, and you can decipher
it with our public key. Fun, eh? If you're a sufficiently
enthusiastic cyberspace denizen to pre-reg, you probably already have
a public key...
We are planning a Virtual New Year's Party at the very least, even if
all net services are not on-line yet. The HTML/SGML capability is
really the critical factor-- we will open as soon as that is reliably
running and add other services as our range of interfaces expands.
Even if our (free) custom browser is not finished by then you will
still be able to use standard MUD/MOO clients in conjunction with
Mosaic or similar HTML browsers to enjoy the multimedia capabilities.
WELL, DO YOU NEED ANY HELP? HOW DO I GET INVOLVED?
I'm glad you asked that question. :-) Since a critical aspect of our
project is free public access, we need volunteers! Our schedule has
been accelerated fairly rapidly at this point and we could use a hand
fairly soon. Send email to "email@example.com" with some brief
notes about what you're interested in implementing and your level of
familiarity with MOO coding. If you have experience with server and
core-level mods, there may be funding in it as well, though we are
primarily looking for volunteers at this time.
ISN'T THIS GETTING PRETTY LONG FOR A "FAQ" FOR SOMETHING
NEW THAT NOT MANY FOLKS OUTSIDE OF THE BAY AREA HAVE
EVEN HEARD OF?
Totally correct. Send questions, suggestions, pointers, flames, and
so on to "firstname.lastname@example.org". If you'd like to be on a mailing list for
discussion of virtual communities, network services, and other Virtual
City (tm) Network related themes, send mail to
"email@example.com". There's plenty more where this came
from, look for technology updates, facility updates, and GIF &
Postscript (tm Adobe) maps. See you in cyberspace!
Virtual City (tm) Network FAQ 1.0 copyright 1993 M. Strata Rose &
VirtualNet; permission to distribute in its entirety, including this
notice, freely granted.
M. Strata Rose
Unix & Network Consultant, SysAdmin & Internet Information
Virtual City (TM) Network
firstname.lastname@example.org | email@example.com | firstname.lastname@example.org